Sunday, October 22, 2017

Decisions, decisions, decisions 

It seemed like an insignificant moment at the time because it occurred so early in the Browns’ 12-9 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans Sunday.

The home crowd had barely settled in their seats when Browns coach Hue Jackson was faced almost immediately with a decision that involved a 15-yard penalty on the opening drive of the game.

On the seventh play of the drive, an incomplete pass on a third-and-one from the Cleveland 32, Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan grabbed the facemask of Browns rookie defensive end Myles Garrett with his left hand, drawing a flag from referee Terry McAulay.

McAulay turned to Jackson, indicated the penalty, but the Cleveland coach declined to march the Titans back 15 yards. It would have moved the ball back to the Cleveland 47 and brought up a third-and-16.

When Jackson gave the I’ll pass signal to McAulay, I immediately jotted down something like “is he crazy?” Third and long from near midfield as opposed to makeable field-goal distance for a good kicker? Declining is not the correct decision.

You want to push the opposing team as far away from your goal line as possible. Make it that much more difficult to put points on the board. Declining that penalty only made it easier.

Playing fast and loose with the would haves, could haves, should haves and second guesses of life, if Jackson had accepted that penalty, Ryan Succop probably would not have been in position to boot the first of his four field goals for the Titans.

On that fourth-and-one play, Cleveland defensive tackle Danny Shelton jumped offside – the first of five such penalties on the afternoon – to give the Tennessee offense life, setting up a 43-yard field goal by Succop five plays later.

Without that field goal, the two clubs would have been locked in a 6-6 battle down the stretch and Zane Gonzalez’s third field goal of the day from 54 yards with 47 seconds left in regulation would have provided a 9-6 Cleveland victory. 

It would have ended a seven-game losing streak, including the first six of this season, and been a more-than-justifiable reward for a defense that turned in by far its best effort of the season and did not deserve to be on the losing end of the score.

The home folks witnessed a classic defensive struggle that featured three more Cleveland intercepted passes, the possible crowning of another starting quarterback next Sunday in London against the Minnesota Vikings and the end of one of the most remarkable streaks in all of sports.

Offensive tackle Joe Thomas, whose election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be a mere formality five years after his retirement, went down with 5:35 left in the third quarter with what was called a triceps injury in his left arm as he was pass blocking.

At that point, he had played 10,363 consecutive snaps since being selected in the first round by the Browns – he was the third overall pick – in the 2007 National Football League draft. It is a record that will never be broken.

Meanwhile, the Browns’ swarming, aggressive and determined-not-to-lose defense, playing with half the secondary (cornerback Jason McCourty and safety Jabrill Peppers) out with injuries, kept the score close despite three interceptions, including two more by DeShone Kizer and a third by Cody Kessler, who entered the game early in the second half.

Jackson had seen enough of Kizer four plays into the third quarter and yanked him in favor of Kessler 90 seconds into the half after the rookie rolled right and delivered a pass into the waiting hands of safety Kevin Byard, who banked all three picks

A sensational goal-line stand by the Cleveland defense after that pick was the closest either team came to scoring a a touchdown. It blunted four straight shots from the 1-yard line with Joe Schobert, Christian Kirksey, Travis Coley and Emmanuel Ogbah in starring roles.

Kizer’s first interception with 19 seconds left in the first half was a fastball to an open Rashard Higgins at the Titans’ 10, but sailed over his head right to Byard. A changeup might have netted a first down. Neither error, as it turned out, resulted in Tennessee points.

Kessler wasn’t much better statistically, but the Cleveland attack seemed to run smoother when he was under center. Until, that is, he badly overthrew a wide-open David Njoku with six minutes left in regulation and Byard was there again to capitalize.

At that point, it looked as though the seventh straight loss this season was inevitable. But the defense, as it did all afternoon, came to the rescue again and bailed out the offense, stiffening and forcing a punt after a three-and-out.

Ten plays, 33 yards and three-and-a-half minutes later, Gonzalez, the seventh-round draft pick who missed a couple of easy field goals earlier this season and caused Browns Nation to wonder whether the club made another draft mistake, improbably knocked through a 54-yarder to knot the score.

The kick looked weird off his right foot, heading well left of the goal post, then somehow straightened out and sailed clearly through the uprights.

The overtime was typical Jackson as the offense went three-and-out on two straight possessions. See if this sounds familiar.

First play on the first possession: Isaiah Crowell off right guard, no gain. Incomplete pass to Kenny Britt. Incomplete pass to Kasen Williams. Britton Colquitt punts. Second possession: Crowell over right guard, two yards. Incomplete pass, a Kessler throwaway when no receiver popped open. Kessler sacked by Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, loses 12 yards. Colquitt punts.

Six plays, two runs for two yards, three incomplete passes, a sack and two Britton Colquitt punts. Six plays, -10 net yards. No ball movement, no imagination, no victory.

The Titans finally broke the malaise, but not without one last defensive effort from the tiring defense, which forced Succop to boot a 47-yarder for the game-winner.

Even that had a little drama. The game clock was stopped for the two-minute warning in the extra session a split second before Succop launched. That kick caromed off the left upright. The second sailed true and straight.

At the end, two main questions remained. Is Thomas’ injury bad enough to sideline him for an extended period of time? And who (whom?) will Jackson put in charge of the huddle next Sunday in London? Your guess is as good as anyone's at this point.

After the latest loss, it would appear as though it will take more than an outstanding defensive effort for the Browns to finally win a game this season. That side of the ball needs help and it is not arriving anytime soon.

If fingers of guilt were to be pointed at anyone associated with this latest loss, a good start would have them pointed squarely at the offensive coordinator.

So far, we have heard nothing from that coordinator that would indicate he shares at least some of the responsibility for such a bad offense.

Maybe the head coach could shed some light.


  1. You'll never hear Jackson accept responsibility for anything. He's an excuse machine with weekly coach-speak that boggles the intelligent mind. If he's here next year, there will be more people at a Massillon-Mckinley game than at a Browns game.

  2. That game is this weekend, BTW.

    As for accepting responsibility, rare is the coach who does. Few have the stones to say, "Yeah, I screwed up."