Sunday, September 17, 2017

Haven’t we seen this before?

So when did it all go wrong for the Browns Sunday in their first road game of the 2017 season?

Cynics would say when they decided to fulfill their schedule obligations and actually show up and try to play a solid game of football with the Baltimore Ravens.

Others, the more practical, objective and realistic ones, would say same old, same old. Different names, different approaches, just about different everything except for one thing.

The losing continues in spite of all the differences. It is the only constant.

The Browns hauled in a 12-game losing streak against the AFC North Division and 13-game losing skid on the road into the game. They left with both streaks intact following a 24-10 loss that looked strikingly similar to the outrageous number of losses since 1999.

Since that eventful season, the Browns have played 289 games and won 88, a winning percentage of .304. Sunday’s setback against the Ravens looked almost eerily like a replay of what has transpired with this franchise for the last 18-plus seasons.

The 2017 version of the Browns Sunday followed a pattern that led to a vast majority of those 201 losses. You name it, they did it in maddeningly benevolent fashion.

Turnovers? You bet. How about five of them? Four interceptions and a fumble recovery, the result of a strip sack the Ravens turned into their initial touchdown 11 minutes into the game.

Bad tackling? Yep. Throw that one in, too. And don’t forget about the dropped passes. They also count.

The Browns on both sides of the football depressed the self-destruct button repeatedly and paid the price just about every time.

The defense, easily the hallmark of this team thus far this season, played up to its capabilities only on occasion, but did not come even close to displaying with the consistency it showed in the loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener.

Last Sunday, the Browns ran into a good defense. This time, they ran into a very good defense that should serve as an object lesson and continuing education for rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who saws things he didn’t see against the Steelers.

The young and inexperienced Cleveland offense was hit-and-miss all afternoon. The only time it showed any consistency was when Kevin Hogan entered the game in the second quarter after Kizer was felled by a migraine.

Hogan was in for four series and did a nice job, compiling 148 yards of offense and accounting for all of Cleveland’s points with a 23-yard scoring strike to rookie tight end David Njoku that halved the score at 14-7 in the second quarter and a 38-yard field goal by Zane Gonzalez on the first possession of the third quarter.

A Terrance West four-yard run in the first quarter and a Joe Flacco-Buck Allen connection on a nine-yard pass in the second quarter accounted for the Ravens’ early scoring until a key series of events unfolded with time running out in the first half.

What turned the game around was a sequence of possessions with less than a minute left in the half that only the Browns could screw up. Both sides of the ball contributed to what can only be called typical Cleveland Browns ill fortune, a.k.a. Murphy’s Law. You remember that one: If something can go wrong, it will.

After Ravens kicker Justin Tucker was wide right – he had the distance – on a 58-yard field goal attempt with 57 seconds left, Browns coach Hue Jackson decided to gamble in effort to narrow the margin. 

Not second-guessing here. When the team starts a drive at its 48 with almost a minute left to halftime, you have to go for it. A couple of completions to Rashard Higgins, who stunned just about everyone with a seven-catch. 95-yard afternoon, picked up a dozen yards.

So far, so good.

After a false start on right tackle Shon Coleman, Hogan tried to force a pass into the middle – and double coverage – with Higgins as its target and was picked off by rookie linebacker Tyus Bowser, who returned it 27 yards to the Cleveland 40.

Only 30 seconds remained in the half. How much damage can be done from 40 yards with only one timeout left? Keep thinking Murphy’s Law.

With 15 seconds left and the ball at the 39, Allen took a Flacco handoff and slashed over left guard, then cut back against the flow and found himself open. Briean Boddy-Calhoun’s tackle at the 2 saved the touchdown with just five seconds remaining.

Only temporarily.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh figured why not go for it. These are the Cleveland Browns. Harbaugh is 16-2 against them. Flacco is 15-2. What did he have to lose?

Murphy’s Law.

Boddy-Calhoun had Jeremy Maclin in the slot, but allowed him to get position on an inside move and could only watch as the veteran wide receiver cradled the 2-yard scoring pass to make it 21-7. It was at least a 10-point swing that all but sealed the Browns’ fate with 30 minutes left.

Little things like that can mean the difference between winning and losing. Teams that make plays in crucial situations usually win. And this was a classic example on both sides of the football.

Kizer’s migraine apparently calmed down early in the third quarter and he finished the game, running his turnover total to four with two more picks, no doubt giving his coach a different kind of headache. He futilely piloted eight possessions overall, generating 219 yards.

The Browns failed all day to make crucial plays on offense and defense. And it was a defensive lapse that enabled the opportunistic Ravens to take the 21-7 lead into the dressing room.

The offense under Kizer and Hogan teased at times, completing six passes of 20-plus yards, then imploded as they threw the quartet of interceptions at the most inappropriate times.

Two of Kizer’s three picks were the result of not delivering the ball on time, giving defenders a chance to recover. The first interception skipped off the usually reliable hands of running back Duke Johnson Jr. in the opening quarter, a microcosm of how the afternoon went.

All in all, it was just another day of abject futility at the office for the Browns.

What else is new?

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