Sunday, January 1, 2017

Miserable end to a miserable season

If any one game served as a microcosm of the 2016 season for the Browns, it was Sunday’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the season finale.

Committing enough mistakes to lose more than one game, the Browns had the game won on two different occasions and squandered each opportunity with the goal line mere yards away.

It proved more than anything that this season’s Browns have no idea how to put a game away. They somehow, some way, unfailingly find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

They had this game won in regulation, their second straight victory of the season following the 14 losses that opened the campaign virtually assured, and gave it away with generous doses of self-inflicted wounds.

With the score tied at 21-21, they had a first-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 5-yard line with less than a minute left in regulation following a beautiful Robert Griffin III-Terrelle Pryor hookup.

A rare victory in Pittsburgh, something treasured by all of Browns Nation despite the fact Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown did not suit up for the Steelers, not only loomed, it was as close to a lock as one could imagine. What could go wrong?

Isaiah Crowell, whose 67-yard serpentine gallop set up the George Atkinson’s game-tying touchdown with 3:28 left in regulation, provided the answer when Steelers defensive end Jarvis Jones stripped him of the ball at the 3. Safety Mike Mitchell, who would factor in a later dustup, recovered.

The Browns also had the game won in overtime before questionable playcalling cost them a chance to end it right there with a touchdown on the first possession after winning the coin toss.

They marched resolutely down field, much as they did when they shot out to a 14-0 lead in the first half on scoring drives of 55 and 67 yards, The Third connecting on scoring passes to tight ends Seth DeValve and Gary Barnidge.

The veteran quarterback expertly guided his offense 79 yards to the Pittsburgh 2-yard line in the extra session, converting three third downs along the way. They landed at the 2 after Mitchell and Corey Coleman grabbed each other’s facemask after the rookie Cleveland receiver gained only four yards on a third-and-goal pass.

The closest official to the play did not see Coleman’s grasp and flagged Mitchell, who was caught by the field microphone complaining bitterly about the call. After clapping happily because he initially thought Coleman drew the flag, he screamed, then bellowed, “Omigod! He grabbed mine! Please look at it. Please look at it.”

Plays when penalties are involved are not reviewable and the ball was placed at the 2. Victory was a short six feet away. Seventy-two measly inches from doing something they rarely do: Win in Pittsburgh. Score a touchdown and the Steelers don’t get a chance. That simple. But with this team, nothing is simple and they went on to prove it . . . again.

After an incomplete pass to tight end Randall Telfer . . . wait a minute. What is Telfer doing in the game? The two catches this season for four yards Randall Telfer? Where were Barnidge and/or DeValve and why weren’t they being targeted? Anyway . . .

After an incomplete pass to Telfer, coach Hue Jackson dialed up a bubble screen to the weak side. Why? Did Crowell’s previous game-losing fumble cause him to think pass this time? Why not just give the ball to him and take your chances?

After all, Crowell had already gained 152 yards on only 19 carries up to that point. What are the odds of another fumble? And why risk calling a play that rarely works that close to the goal line?

Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins caught the ball in the left flat with fellow wideout Pryor there as a one-man screen. Pryor, who passed 1,000 receiving yards on the season during the game and is a much better receiver than blocker, then proved it by failing to clear his man so Hawkins could score.

Hawkins was trapped at the 5 and then made a mistake one might see from a rookie, not someone who has been around the National Football League for six seasons. He reversed field and was ultimately brought down 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

So instead of third-and-makeable, it was third and goal from the 16. A subsequent incompletion to Pryor brought Cody Parkey into the game for a 34-yard field goal and the lead, thus giving the Steelers the opportunity to score since the Browns botched the touchdown opportunity.

The Steelers, who generated only 52 yards of offense in the first half and failed to convert their first nine third-down opportunities, went 75 yards in nine plays for the game-winner.

Landry found 6-2 Cobi Hamilton from 26 yards out after he got behind 5-9 cornerback Brien Boddy-Calhoun to give the Steelers their seventh straight victory and 30th over the Browns in the last 40 meetings.

The rookie Cleveland corner thought he had his second pick-6 of the season with 3:22 left in the third quarter and the Browns leading by seven (14-7), swiping a Jones pass intended for Demarcus Ayers at the Cleveland 32.

Winding his way down the right sideline, he extended his left arm as he approached the goal line and the official ruled touchdown as the ball trickled into the end zone. It would have given the Browns a 14-point lead again. Would, coulda, didn’t.

A replay review – all scoring plays and turnovers are reviewed automatically – revealed Pittsburgh wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey stripped him of the ball from behind a yard from the goal line and the ball wound up in the end zone, where Jones covered it.

The story of the first half was the much-maligned Cleveland defense, which made the early two-touchdown lead stand up for most of the half. But it was victimized by the offense, which turned the ball over on consecutive snaps late in the second quarter, the second of which led to a Steelers score.

The defense overcame a Griffin interception in the end zone, but a high snap by rookie center Anthony Fabiano, making his first start, was costly when The Third failed to cover it at the Cleveland 37 after it sailed over his head.

It took Jones, who seemed energized by the gift, seven plays to move the ball the 37 yards, connecting with running back DeAngelo Williams, who turned the flat pass into an 11-yard score after linebacker Jamie Collins whiffed on an open-field tackle at the 11. It halved the Cleveland lead.

And then those nasty self-inflicted wounds returned in the second half and overtime periods to punctuate a fitting, as it turned out, ending to the most miserable, frustrating and easily forgettable season in the history of this once-proud franchise.


  1. "The Fumble" 2.0. Those who don't think history repeats itself need to think again.

  2. Not quite the same thing, southie. The first "fumble" was in a playoff game and happened late in the game. This one was not nearly as important as the other.

    Nice try.

  3. Winning in Pittsburgh after this miserable season is just as important!