So close and yet . . .
The Browns could have – and some would argue should have – knocked off the Indianapolis Colts Sunday. Instead, they suffered their 15th straight loss on the road.
In a game jam packed with ifs, the Browns pushed Hue Jackson’s coaching record in Cleveland to 1-18 with a 31-28 loss to the Colts with both sides of the football failing their coach at critical times.
Time to play the game of ifs.
If Browns receivers hadn’t dropped eight catchable passes, DeShone Kizer might have quarterbacked his first National football League victory.
If Kizer hadn’t thrown a half dozen passes behind his intended receivers, he might have done considerably better than 22-of-47 for 242 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
If Kizer had not thrown a couple of bad interceptions at critical junctures, the outcome might have been a whole lot different.
If Browns receivers had not committed four pass interference penalties (one shove and three pick plays), which lost 42 yards for tight end Seth DeValve, Kizer’s stats would have been much better.
If the defense hadn’t allowed the anemic (until this game) Indianapolis offense to score touchdowns on four straight possessions to take a 28-7 lead with 2:41 left in the first half, this one might have turned out differently. They required only 24 plays, consumed 287 yards and took just 10:52 off the clock.
(Kind of makes one wonder whether Gregg Williams’ wonderful defense voted to take the afternoon off. Ya think it’s safe to say it will not be a pleasant or quiet week in the defense meeting room this week as they prepare for Cincinnati next Sunday?)
If free safety Jabrill Peppers had not taken a bad angle on one long touchdown pass and arrived late on another, drawing pass interference against the same receiver which later led to another score, who knows how this one would have turned out.
If Zane Gonzalez was only half successful with his two onside kicks down the stretch, the Browns had an excellent shot of at least tying the game. So . . .
If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas. In the game of woulda, coulda and shoulda, the Browns didn’t and thus lost for the 21st time in the last 22 games and 28th time in the last 30 dating back to Oct, 15, 2015.
In the event you missed it, those victories, both at home, were against San Francisco, 24-10, on Dec. 3, 2015, and against San Diego, 20-17, last Dec. 24, Jackson’s lone Cleveland victory.
The Browns haven’t won a game in September since knocking off the Tennessee Titans 28-14 (again at home), on Sept. 20, 2015. Makes some – if not most – fans wonder just when the madness will stop.
Jacoby Brissett, who had not thrown a touchdown pass in the NFL in three starts, piloted the Colts victory, which sort of proves (arguably, of course) just about any quarterback can be successful against Cleveland.
With injured quarterback Andrew Luck on the sideline in civvies, Brissett ran for the Colts’ first two touchdowns in that four-touchdown explosion and connected with wide receiver T. Y. Hilton, who turned a simple square out into a 61-yard scoring romp, on which Peppers arrived late on the scene and took a bad tackling angle.
Frank Gore completed the four-touchdown run with 2:41 left in the first half after Peppers tardily picked up Hilton streaking down the middle and shoved him to the ground at the Cleveland 11, drawing yellow laundry.
The Browns earlier had pulled even at 7-7 after the first Indy score when Kizer led a five-play, 75yard drive that ended with a 19-yard touchdown run by Duke Johnson Jr. It was highlighted by Kenny Britt’s 38-yard reception (that is not a typo).
It was another classic case of what the Browns so often have done since 1999 and what fans often times get desperately frustrated about: Play just well enough to lose.
They tried. They really did. They played hard. They really did. Can’t fault them for that. But it’s not even close to being good enough. The final in this one in no way indicates the Browns are getting closer and closer to figuring it out.
Unfortunately, style points do no count in football. Whatever their effort, it was just not good enough. They did not make plays on either side of the ball when they needed to.
Kizer, for example, threw an interception inside the Indy 10-yard line on the first series of the second half and down by just two touchdowns, blunting the opportunity to crawl to within 21-14. The pass was behind an open Kasen Williams inside the Colts 5 and picked off by cornerback Rashaan Melvin.
On the previous play, Kizer lasered an 11-yard bullet through a tight window to tight end David Njoku, who had scored the first Cleveland touchdown. All of which supports the notion that Kizer is the kind of quarterback who will thrill you one minute and break your heart the next.
His second pick two possessions later after Christian Kirksey recovered a Jack Doyle fumble at the Indy 44, was delivered slightly behind Britt, The veteran receiver managed to get his hands on the ball, but deflected it to Melvin, who ran it back into Cleveland territory, setting up an Adam Vinatieri field goal.
On defense, the Browns had numerous opportunities to disrupt that four-touchdown first-half onslaught and failed. Five times during that stretch, the Browns put the Indianapolis offense in third-down situations. The Colts converted every one. Three of them unbelievably wound up in the Cleveland end zone.
The defense settled down in the second half, limiting the Colts to just the Vinatieri field goal. But the damage had been done. The Colts were merely hanging on down the stretch, hoping to avoid a second straight game at home where they blew a game after taking the lead.
Hilton, who burned Cleveland corner Jamal Taylor several times en route to a five-catch, 145-yard first half, was limited to just two receptions for only eight yards in the second half. Too late.
All a pair of fourth-quarter scores by the Browns – an 11-yard scoring strike to Britt (also not a typo) and one-yard sneak by Kizer – did was make the final score seem a lot closer than it really was. All it did was give Browns fans hope. False hope as it turned out.
It died when Gonzalez’ weak second onside attempt with 2:04 left in regulation – he failed initially after the Browns made it 31-21 with 6:56 left – dribbled harmlessly into the waiting hands of Matthias Farley.
And the losing beat goes on and on and on . . .