It's all about the math
There are two very different ways to look at the Browns’ 28-26 loss Sunday to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
The closeness of the score would indicate to someone who judges a game strictly by the final outcome that this was a very close game. It wasn’t. At least not until the waning moments.
The Browns parlayed a sputtering offense, rather interesting – no, make that head-scratching – decision making by their head coach at a crucial juncture of the game and a defense that wasn’t very defensive when it needed to be into the exciting finish.
Coach Hue Jackson, who might be quick with a quip but apparently lacks the ability to think some things through on the fly, made a strange decision that cost his team the chance to end an eight game-losing streak that began last season.
When he made the conscious decision to go for two points instead of a one-point placement after Terrelle Pryor’s second touchdown of the game pulled the Browns to within nine points at 28-19 with 2:07 left in regulation, the game was irretrievably lost. For lack of a better term, let’s call it a mathematics cramp.
Logical thinking dictates going for the sure one point at that point and keeping it a one-score game at 28-20 with a chance to at least tie the game. Failing the two-point attempt, as they did, made it a two-score game with no opportunity to win.
Not even the club’s first successful onsides kick exactly five years ago Sunday in Oakland can act as a salve for the emotional wounds that must have been felt after the game. Duke Johnson’s Jr. one-yard scoring plunge with 27 seconds left was merely an addition to the stats sheet.
The odds of successfully recovering consecutive onsides kicks must be astronomical. So when veteran Tennessee wide receiver Andre Johnson cradled Cody Parkey’s second attempt with 27 seconds left, all that catch-up work was rendered moot.
So close and yet so far. Thanks, coach.
The Browns actually did not deserve to be close enough to cause cardiac concern to some in the Titans’ home crowd, which had witnessed just one home victory in the last 15 games prior to this one.
The Browns’ offense had six possessions in each half and rang up seven three-and-outs, a momentum killer they have avoided most of this season despite being winless in six games.
They had three in a row in the first half totaling zero net yards after putting up a pair of Parkey fields on the first two possessions. They netted 90 yards on those possessions before Cody Kessler directed a nine-play, 94-yard drive culminated by the first of Terrelle Pryor’s two touchdown catches.
Fits and starts. You just never knew when the Cleveland offense would show up.
The three-and-out scourge returned early in the second half with four straight netting 15 total yards, while the Titans improved their lead to 28-13 on drives of 70 and 80 yards.
DeMarco Murray, who found the yards tough against a grudging Cleveland run defense, scored on a short run and quarterback Marcus Mariota, who had collaborated with wide receivers Rishard Matthews and Kendall Wright on scoring passes in the first half, hooked up with tight end Anthony Fasano for a third score.
The Cleveland offense mustered an embarrassing three net yards in that quartet of three-and-outs before awakening in the final quarter. The third one was a nightmare worthy of a bad college game.
Taking over on their 6-yard line after Johnson committed an unforgivable error by fair catching a punt at that point (optimists would say at least he didn’t fumble it), the play-by-play read this way:
(Isaiah) Crowell, up the middle, no gain; Pryor, 4-yard pass from (Cody) Kessler; false start, (Andrew) Hawkins; delay of game; Johnson, up the middle, six yards; Britton Colquitt punt. Not noted: one shake of the head by Jackson on the sideline – probably from embarrassment – following the consecutive dumb penalties.
It appeared after Fasano’s touchdown catch that the Browns were cooked. It sure looked that way. The defense couldn’t stop the Tennessee offense, the offense was flat and no one showed signs of stepping up and making plays.
And then just like that, the offense decided to do something about the situation. Kessler, who at times alternated looking like a seasoned pro and then a raw rookie, engineered a 13-play, 75-yard drive that took 4:36 off the clock – that’s way too much time that late in the game – finding Pryor in the end zone for the second time.
Along the way, he converted two fourth downs and a third down as the Browns went into desperation mode. He backed that up with a nine-play 62-yarder following the onsides recovery, Johnson covering the final yard.
The Jekyll-Hyde Cleveland offense produced 341 yards, but just 40 yards on the ground. In last week’s blowout loss to New England, the Browns ran for 27 yards, but it took them 22 carries to accomplish it. Some might call their ground output Sunday an improvement.
All of a sudden, the vaunted Cleveland running game has disappeared, perhaps because the revamped offensive line isn’t very good. (Trying to be nice here.)
Kessler was 26-of-41 for 336 yards and the two scores. But he was sacked six times, sometimes because he often had trouble locating open receivers and displayed a slow release at other times.
The secondary, which missed cornerback Joe Haden with a groin injury, lost starting free safety Jordan Poyer midway through the second quarter when he was blindsided on a Colquitt punt. There’s no question Mariota and his receivers took full advantage.
In the end, it’s just another loss for the Browns, quickly becoming the National Football League’s stepchild, if they aren’t there already. They remain the NFL’s lone winless team.
If you’re keeping count, that’s six losses in a row this season, nine straight including the end of last season and 16 of the last 17. On the road, the losing streak now stands at nine and 14 of the last 15.
Can things get any worse? Yep.
Up next, the Cincinnati Bengals on the road and they figure to be in a nasty mood when the Browns arrive. The pre-season favorites to win the AFC North Division are 2-4 and coming off a 35-17 shellacking in New England.