The good, the bad, the ugly
This just in from the Browns’ good news-bad news department . . .
First the good news: Quarterback Robert Griffin III played his first game of the season Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals since fracturing his shoulder in the season opener and finished it completely healthy.
Now the bad news: He was awful.
More good news: The defense permitted only three points in the second half, easily its best scoreboard performance of the season.
More bad news: The Bengals scored 20 points in the first half, scoring with ridiculous ease.
Even more good news: Isaiah Crowell broke out of his funk with a 113-yard afternoon on only 10 carries.
And finally, even more bad news: The Bengals, who gained 271 yards on the ground in the teams’ first meeting a couple of months ago in Cincinnati, added another 213 infantry style Sunday with Jeremy Hill picking up 111.
There is no other way to put it than to say the Browns emerged from their bye week vacation looking worse than they did entering it. Fault for their abysmal performance, especially on offense, falls into the lap of coach Hue Jackson.
Can’t totally blame him for the defensive collapse in the first 30 minutes because coordinator Ray Horton must share at least some of the blame for the men on his side of the football.
There is no question this team did not come ready to play a game of football against the Bengals, a club struggling in its own right to regain some dignity after starting the season 3-7-1.
Apparently dignity appears nowhere in the Browns’ vocabulary. Certainly not after the way they played in the first 30 minutes of the 23-10 loss in front of half a snowy stadium by the lakefront.
That, of course, extends the club’s losing streak this season to 13 games and 16 games overall since the last victory exactly one year ago against the San Francisco 49ers.
Even though the final score did not indicate it at the time, this one was a rout shortly after it commenced. The Bengals’ opening 73-yard drive required only six plays – tight end Tyler Eifert making the first if his two touchdown catches – and took just 2:39 off the clock. It was the appetizer.
The next time they owned the ball after a Britton Colquitt punt, they drove 45 yards in nine plays, Hill doing the honors from a yard out. But the point-after attempt Mike Nugent provided some comic relief, jolting the small crowd out of impending slumber.
Long snapper Clark Harris’ snap arrived flat to holder Kevin Huber, who could not set the ball up quickly and the kick was blocked. And with the new rule that allows a team to return a blocked PAT for two points, the Browns, of course, tried. At that point, they would try just about anything to get on the scoreboard.
Considering how the offense played in the first half (it did not cross midfield, compiled just 52 yards of offense. racked up three first downs and owned the ball for slightly less than 11 minutes), this opportunity represented, as it turned out, the best chance for the Browns to put a number on the board in the first 30 minutes.
But just like the offense, it died with the ball, following four laterals, winding up at midfield.
The Third, clearly showing rust from his long inactivity, had no rhythm with his receivers. He was uncertain in the pocket, had all kinds of problems locating open men and when he did, his throws lacked zip.
He completed just a dozen of his 28 attempts (on 33 dropbacks) for only 104 yards. His longest throw was 15 yards to rookie Corey Coleman, whom he targeted 11 times and hit just thrice for 26 yards.
He targeted the increasingly frustrated Terrelle Pryor, easily the team’s leading receiver in every department, a puzzling three times. They weren’t on the same page all afternoon. That has to be a concern for Jackson.
The Third saved his worst throw of the day on the first play after Huber pinned the Browns at their 2-yard line with a punt midway through the second quarter. It was one of Pryor’s three targets and came on the tail end of a flea flicker play.
The quarterback handed off to Duke Johnson Jr., who took two steps toward the line of scrimmage and pitched the ball back to his quarterback. The Third launched a 50-yard rainbow into triple coverage, somewhere in the vicinity of his target.
Cincinnati free safety George Iloka made the easy pick at the Cleveland 47 and returned it 21 yards. Five plays and 26 yards later, quarterback Andy Dalton hooked up with Eifert on their second score of the day.
This time, Nugent made the extra point, but the former Ohio State placekicker was wide right on a 36-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of the first half. He also scored the Bengals’ only second-half points with a 44-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
The Cleveland offense finally awoke from its deep sleep on the second possession of the second half, crossing midfield for the first time in the game on a 42-yard run by Crowell on a draw play over right guard with 12:34 left in the third quarter.
That monumental achievement definitely wakened the crowd, who watched as The Third complete passes to Gary Barnidge, Andrew Hawkins and Coleman. A horse-collar call on the latter throw placed the ball at the Cincinnati 2.
After rookie fullback Dan Vitale dropped a perfect throw for a score, Crow wedged out a yard before Griffin barely sneaked into the end zone. It was so close, it required a lengthier than usual replay review.
And when referee Gene Steratore moments later announced, “After review, the ruling on the field stands . . . touchdown” and raised his hands, the crowd seemed somewhat stunned. After all, it was only the second touchdown the Browns have scored in the third quarter all season. They have three field goals.
After forcing a punt, the offense had a chance to make it a one-score game with still plenty of time left, but after driving 57 yards to the Cincinnati 12 and stalling, Jackson opted for a Cody Parkey 26-yard field goal in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
Instead of gambling on fourth down, which he did successfully at his 21 on the second possession of the game, he went conservative and kept it a two-score game. That, for all practical purposes, insured the losing streak would continue.
And the bad news continues to flow from what used to be one of the truly proud franchises in the National Football League with no good news in sight.