It’s not how you start that counts
If there were any doubts left that it is extremely painful to be a fan of the Cleveland Browns, let those doubts be firmly dispelled after what happened to them Sunday in their home opener against the Baltimore Ravens.
The final score read Baltimore 25, Cleveland 20, but how the teams arrived at that verdict challenges belief in many ways.
For example, who would have believed the Browns would storm to a 20-0 lead with four minutes and 34 seconds left in the opening quarter. One might say they sure played a great game in the first quarter.
The home folks were giddy and somewhat stunned at the same time. Were these really the Cleveland Browns? The sad-sack, probably-lose-just-about-all-of-their-games-this-season Cleveland Browns? Everything, it seemed, clicked in the first 10 minutes.
Rookie Corey Coleman hauled in a 31-yard scoring strike from Josh McCown to climax a 75-yard drive to open the game; Isaiah Crowell rambled 85 yards on the first play of the second possession for a score; and the first of Joe Haden’s two interceptions set up Coleman’s second score on an 11-yard connection.
What’s going on here? Three possessions, three touchdowns. The Browns looked like the Ravens, who in turn looked like the Browns. It was role reversal out of control.
The Cleveland defense made Joe Flacco and his cohorts look rather inept. This certainly wasn’t the Flacco who owned a 13-2 record against Cleveland.
So when Lawrence Guy blocked Patrick Murray’s extra-point attempt after the third touchdown and Tavon Young ran it back all the way to put the Ravens on the board, it looked so innocent. The Browns were in charge, right? Momentary belch.
So who would have believed the Browns’ contributions to the scoreboard were finished for the afternoon at that point of the game?
Certainly not the fans. Their guys had hung 20 points on the dreaded Ravens and hungrily wanted more. Expected more. Greed has no bounds when it comes to hated division rivals.
And probably not the Ravens, who looked flummoxed by the unexpected point barrage early on. Of course, they had no idea that one of the least-seen plays in the pro game turned out in some strange way to provide the momentum they needed when all looked hopeless even though more than three quarters remained.
Instead of trailing, 21-0, hope arrived in the form of the blocked point after. And from that point on, for next last 49 minutes and 26 seconds to be exact, the role reversal game disappeared and what was expected to happen before the game actually happened.
Disbelief in what they had just witnessed had to have accompanied Browns fans out of the ballpark. It was clearly the most bizarre season-opening game since Dwayne Rudd’s famous helmet toss allowed Kansas City to escape with a last-second victory in 2003.
There are numerous culprits in this latest hard-to-swallow loss, the most obvious being the five guys up front hired to protect their quarterback. After what McCown went through, even during the early onslaught, it’s a wonder he could lift his left arm after the game.
The Browns lost their stating quarterback last week when Robert Griffin III played chicken with Philadelphia cornerback Jalen Mills and lost, shelving him for at least the next two months. So it was imperative the Cleveland offensive line protect McCown, who isn’t the fastest or quickest quarterback at age 37. He is one injury away from rookie Cody Kessler becoming the starter.
The fact he finished the Ravens game at all is a testament to either his stupidity or fortitude for not coming out of the game when it was obvious he was dragging his left arm. It was so bad at one point, he couldn’t put his helmet on with both hands. Just the right. He handed off the ball with only his right hand.
He literally took one for the team as the Ravens, sensing blood in the Cleveland backfield, hammered McCown relentlessly, even after he delivered the ball. Often times, he held on to the ball too long.
His left shoulder absorbed a Ravens massaging as he fell. It would be amazing if he didn’t suffer either a separated or dislocated shoulder during the game. It got so bad, Kessler warmed up on at least two occasions.
And yet on very possession, Kessler’s helmet was off and out trotted McCown, who actually drove the Browns down to what would have been the winning touchdown in the final minute.
Adding to the bizarre nature of the game was an unusual call that snuffed out any last hope for victory.
McCown hooked up with Terrelle Pryor on a 20-yard pass to the Ravens’ 10-yard line on a first-down with about 30 seconds left in the game. The Cleveland receiver and Baltimore safety Lardarius Webb rolled out of bounds on the play.
As he stood up, Pryor appeared to blithely toss the ball to one of the officials, but it glanced off Webb. Head linesman Wayne Mackie, running down the sideline toward the play, saw it as taunting and yanked his yellow hankie.
When it landed, so did the Browns’ chances of winning this one. It was the second penalty on the play – a holding call on Webb preceded it– and resulted in offsetting penalties. It wound up as a NO PLAY in the play-by-play.
If that was taunting, Pryor should have gotten his money’s worth and jammed the ball in Webb’s facemask, making it obvious.
To make matters worse, McCown was intercepted by Ravens linebacker C. J. Mosley near the goal line on the next play with 21 seconds left. It neatly wrapped up a nice – and somewhat surprising – comeback by the Ravens.
Flacco, who completed just eight of his first 19 passes for 60 yards, hit on 17 of his next 26 for 262 yards and a pair of touchdown throws to Mike Wallace.
But his favorite target of the afternoon by far – and the guy who bailed him out of mess after mess all day – was Dennis Pitta. The big tight end did not score, but caught nine passes for 102 yards, several of them on third down when the Ravens struggled.
And the Baltimore defense, battered for 261 yards in the first 30 minutes, shaved that to just 126 yards in the second half. They held the Browns to just six first downs following intermission after surrendering 11 in the first half.
The result of this game should be a blazing neon sign for the young Browns: It’s not how you start the game that counts; it’s how you finish it. And this finish clearly did not match its beginning.
As the game unfolded, you could almost sense a shift in the momentum. Then it became more than a sense. It became a reality and then an impending nightmare.
Some losses are harder to swallow than others. This was one of the hardest and was decidedly Cleveland Brownsesque in nature.
The pain lingers in the Factory of Sadness.