No-Doz afternoon not kind to Browns
Browns fans were treated to one of the dullest displays of offense in many seasons Sunday by two football teams traveling in opposite directions.
The fact the Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars managed to put 26 points on the scoreboard was a feat in and of itself, considering both offenses played well enough to lose several games.
It was a titanic battle of two exceptional defenses simply overwhelming their counterparts on the other side of the football all afternoon. It was a war of attrition the Jaguars finally won, 19-7, with a lot of help from the Cleveland offense.
Each team had 14 possessions, not counting a one-play knee for each team. Britton Colquitt of the Browns and the Jaguars’ Brad Nortman were busy with 17 punts during the snowy afternoon.
How bad was Hue Jackson’s offense in the first half? It generated 68 total yards, 66 of them on the team’s only touchdown drive in the second quarter. In the other six full possessions, five were three-and-outs and one was aborted by an interception on the first play. That says it all.
DeShone Kizer & Co. turned the football over four times, which the Jags turned into 16 points. On second thought, forget the Company part. It was all Kizer, who was picked off twice and strip-sacked twice.
If it weren’t for the stout Cleveland defense, this one would have been a blowout. The Jags’ defense limited the Browns to just 184 yards, 11 first downs, 55 plays and a meager 23 minutes of ball ownership.
Here’s how sharp the Cleveland defense was. The Jaguars, who improved to 7-3, recovered a Jabrill Peppers’ muffed punt at the Browns’ 31-yard line early in the third quarter. Three plays later, Christian Kirksey strip-sacked Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles and Myles Garrett recovered to blunt the threat.
The Jacksonville offense staggered all afternoon, gaining yardage in nickel-and-dime fashion. The fact the Cleveland defense forced 20 third-down situations illustrates how frustrating the cold Cleveland afternoon was for Bortles.
The Jags’ only offensive touchdown came courtesy of Kizer’s first interception on Cleveland’s second possession of the game. Four plays after the Telvin Smith pick, Bortles found tight end Marcedes Lewis all alone in the end zone after Cleveland safety Derrick Kindred bit on a play fake.
Other than that, Bortles and Kizer played a game called who can play the game of football worse. As it turned out, both quarterbacks won.
Bortles was so overwhelmed by the Cleveland defense, Jags coach Doug Marrone decided in the second half that his defense had a good handle on the game and went into protect mode. That meant a lot of Leonard Fournette.
The rookie running back, who was questionable for the game with ankle miseries, looked amazingly healthy. He carried the ball 18 times in the second half, 10 more than in the first half. On one third-quarter drive, he ran seven times in eight plays.
Fournette became the first opposing back to run for 100 yards against the Browns since LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills last December. He finished with 111 yards, but it took him 28 cracks to do it.
The Browns actually had two chances to win this one, believe it or not. They had an honest-to-goodness shot at ending their nine-game losing streak this season and 10 straight overall.
The inability of either team to take charge on offense is what strangely gave the Browns the chance to win with 3:31 left in regulation and the Jaguars clinging to a 13-7 lead after Josh Lambo’s second field goal of the day.
All that was needed was a play. By anyone. Kizer preferably. And then, as it has been for this franchise for the last 46 games, it all came apart. In slow, agonizing fashion.
Seven plays into the next possession, Kizer was sacked at the Jaguars’ 45-yard line by Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakouke as the ball escaped his grip on a third-and-10. Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. picked up the loose ball and raced toward the Cleveland goal line.
The play was whistled dead at that point and ruled a sack. It was overturned when replay showed Kizer lost possession the football just before he was tackled. That turned out to be just act one in the latest late-game journey into misery for this woebegone franchise.
Act two of this sad little drama came after the Browns took possession of the ball 20 seconds – and three timeouts – later at their 20. On the first play, Ngakouke beat left tackle Shane Drango off the snap, strip-sacked Kizer and Smith recovered the football after it rolled into the end zone.
It was a fitting conclusion for an afternoon that proved defense is not a lost art in some parts of the National Football League. It was also an afternoon when offense clearly took a back seat.
The loss, which added another sad and disappointing chapter to Kizer’s unfortunate education in the NFL, was a microcosm of what has become a winless season that now totals 10.
Other than enjoying the performance by the Browns’ defense, the only time the fans enjoyed similar enjoyment came during their best drive of the afternoon, a five-play possession culminated by a beautiful Kizer connection with running back Duke Johnson Jr. in stride running a skinny post down the seam from 27 yards.
That’s the Kizer who thrills fans. Poised, self-assured, on target with his throws. And then he slips into his break-your-heart mode shortly thereafter, mostly down the stretch when the Browns actually had a chance to win.
The loss marked the third straight season, and the ninth time in the last 10 seasons, the Browns will finish with double-digit losses. It was also the franchise’s 43rd loss in the last 47 games, an NFL record, establishing a brand new low for a franchise that once was one of the proudest in the league.
The Browns, now 1-25 under Jackson, have also lost 11 straight games in November with next Sunday’s visit to Cincinnati their last chance this season to end it. Their last November victory was three years ago, a 26-24 triumph in Atlanta.
The only drama that remains is how will fans to react when the Browns finally win a game and end this miserable stretch. And they will win. Just not sure when. They came awfully close against one of the best teams in the league Sunday.
But then you look at the Browns’ schedule and notice four of the final six games – yes, the end is mercifully in sight – are on the road, where they have lost 17 in a row.
With this franchise, negativity is unavoidable.