Is this really happening?
As he prepared for his first start as a quarterback in the National Football League this past week. Kevin Hogan said earlier this week he likes to visualize the game. Sort of see things before they happen.
Bet he didn’t visualize what unfolded Sunday down in Houston against the Texans. Like three interceptions, one a pick 6, in one quarter; one safety (intentional grounding in the end zone); and way, way, way too many passes sailing, sometimes floating, over the intended receiver’s head.
Bet he didn’t visualize getting sacked four times and generally running an offense that did not look dissimilar at all to the one operated by DeShone Kizer, who was benched because of its inefficiency and who must have been an amused spectator on the sideline in the 33-17 loss.
“I could have done that,” he might have muttered to himself as he watched the Cleveland offense unravel for the umpteenth time this season as the losing streak this season reaches six games and road losing woes now stands at 16 in a row.
Until Hogan connected with tight end Seth DeValve on a short scoring pass with a minute left in regulation, the Cleveland offense had compiled less than 200 total yards against a defense that had given up more points than the Browns this season.
The only Brown who saw the Texans’ end zone prior to DeValve played for the defense. Cornerback Jason McCourty put a halt to 30 unanswered Houston points when he rang up a pick 6 after intercepting rookie Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson early in the fourth quarter with the Browns trailing, 33-3.
Coach Hue Jackson time and again asked Hogan, who played well in relief of Kizer on three occasions this season, to do something he does not do well. Of his 37 attempts, Hogan dialed long distance vertically nearly a dozen times. And completed none.
He does not excel at stretching the field, which runs counter to Jackson’s offensive philosophy. He is a much better quarterback when throwing short- and intermediate-range passes. Perhaps that’s why Jackson likes Kizer.
But after what he saw against the Texans, either the coach alters his game plan for next Sunday at home against Tennessee or brings back Kizer and his bazooka arm.
In the run-up to this game, Hogan said, “I feel like I run the offense the way he (Jackson) wants it to be run.” After playing for three extremely frustrating hours against Houston, he might want to rethink that.
In an attempt to please his coach, Hogan altered his mechanics. In an effort to throw deep, he consistently got under the ball, instead of getting behind it and driving through it, and floated it downfield. He can throw 18- to 20-yard outs, but the vertical game is not his strong suit.
A nightmarish second quarter, which actually began well, took all the fun out of this one for Hogan.
After the Texans had taken a 10-3 first-quarter lead on the first of Watson’s three touchdown passes, a 39-yard beauty to Will Fuller to culminate an 87-yard drive in five plays, the Cleveland quarterback directed a good-looking drive.
On the ninth play of that drive at the Houston 23, Hogan got under a throw and floated the football over the head of Duke Johnson Jr. and right into the hands of Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who saw nothing daylight, i.e. the Cleveland end zone 82 yards ahead. No one laid a hand on him.
On the next Browns possession, Hogan went deep, this time down the right sideline, again for the Duke, and dropped the ball perfectly into the arms of Houston linebacker Dylan Cole.
Pick No. 3 came after Watson had given his club a 24-3 lead on a short shovel pass to Braxton Miller, the former Ohio State quarterback/wide receiver who somersaulted into the end zone on the one-yard play.
This time Sammie Coates was the intended target and Joseph simply jumped the route for his second intercept as Hogan seemed to stare down his receiver. Three interceptions in five possessions, two of them consecutive. Ball game.
The television camera zeroed in on Hogan on the sideline following the third interception and he wore what appeared to be a bewildered look. A look of disbelief at what was unfolding. This was not the way it was supposed to go.
Not only were the turnovers drive and momentum (such as it was) killers, they were emotion-draining daggers. Call them self-inflicted wounds of the worst kind.
And then Jackson did something surprising as all kinds of speculation no doubt buzzed about the press box as to what he would do at the half. Would he yank Hogan, who threw the trio of picks, put only three points on the board in seven possessions and looked nothing like Kizer’s relief pitcher?
As the teams trotted to the dressing room, I noted, “Well, Hogan had his shot. He blew it. Does Jackson want to see more of this?” Did 128 yards of offense on seven drives warrant more of this torture?
One can only imagine the reaction around Browns Nation when they saw Hogan take the huddle at the start of the second half. What must the man have been thinking?
The Browns made the final look respectable – that is if you consider a 16-point loss respectable – by outscoring the Texans, 14-0, in the final 15 minutes.
An optimist would say, “Well at least the Browns won one quarter. “ A pessimist would counter, “Are you out of . . . never mind.”
When it was all said and done, those fans with the courage to stick this one out until the very bitter end had to think, “How much longer do Browns fans have to put up with this garbage? When is enough enough? At what point do those in charge see this is not working?”
You can be certain they did not visualize their favorite football team getting whipped so thoroughly this far into the season.
Asked after the game, Jackson dealt with a question regarding whether rock bottom for his team is in sight, as if oh and six and a 1-21 record under this head coach doesn’t already place them there.
“I’m not going to let it get rock bottom,” he told the assembled media. “Just like I told the team, it’s not fun. . .. But this is the hand we’re dealt with. . . . We have to stick together, hold each other accountable and keep playing.
“This team is not quitting and Hue Jackson is not quitting. . . I know the narrative that’s going to be written. . . . I am not swimming in that lake. . . . We are going to find a way. It’s that simple.”
Whistling past the graveyard.