Improbability factor strikes again
When is a victory not a victory?
When you’re the 2017 Cleveland Browns and you take a 21-7 lead into the fourth quarter of a game in front of the home folks and lose to the Green Bay Packers in overtime in most improbable fashion.
And when is a loss not a loss?
When you are the Green Bay Packers and you enter the fourth quarter of a football game against the 2017 Cleveland Browns with a 21-7 deficit and win in overtime in most improbable fashion.
It was the Dec. 10, 2017 non-musical presentation of How to Turn a 21-7 Lead Into a 27-21 Loss.
That in a rather small nutshell is what happened Sunday as the Browns did not snatch this time, they flat out grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory and firmly yanked with all their might in a 27-21 loss that, as much as anything, defines this team.
What took place on the lakefront was clearly a microcosm of the last two seasons under Hue Jackson, whose record as the Cleveland coach slips, no, make that slips, dives and plunges to 1-28.
This team, which proved once again it has no idea how to close out a game when it has a rare lead, can’t win even one by accident.
Sunday’s two-touchdown lead entering the fourth quarter was the largest of the season at that point of any game and definitely an accurate indicator of how much the Browns dominated the game until the fatal fourth quarter.
Quarterback DeShone Kizer looked sharp, as sharp as he has been all season, except for a foolish and, as it turned out, harmless interception late in the first half. The rookie threw touchdown passes to Josh Gordon, Duke Johnson Jr. and Corey Coleman.
Isaiah Crowell ran like has hasn’t run this season, piling up his first 100-yard game of the season and the Cleveland offensive line, which kept Kizer clean for three quarters, played its best overall game of the season.
Even though targeting Gordon oddly became somewhat of an afterthought in the second half – he was targeted only twice after catching three passes in the first half for 69 yards – the offense, which has struggled most of the season, more than held its own until the final quarter and overtime.
The defense also played well for three quarters. The only Packers score required a little trickery – a fake punt – and a blown coverage in the Cleveland secondary to take an early lead on their first possession of the game. After that, the Browns actually looked like a good football team for the next 40 minutes. Who were these guys?
And yet, Browns fans, even the giddy ones enjoying the unusual comfort of such a lead so late in a game, had a feeling. It was feeling that somehow, some way, this one was not going to end well. Impending doom lurked. They just did not know where.
After all, these were the woebegone, downtrodden, winless Cleveland Browns and the 21-7 lead seemed like an aberration, a dream from which they did not want to awaken.
You’ll have to forgive their pessimism because they have seen way too much heartache with this franchise since 1999. They often wonder how many different ways their team can lose a football game. They were about to discover another one.
The fans have become so accustomed to such football, even though the large (for the Browns) lead against the Packers no doubt stunned them, it nevertheless gave birth to the feeling that maybe, just maybe, this was the game that would end the 13-game losing streak, the 29-game losing streak on Sunday and the 12-gamer this season.
Little did they know at the time that a long punt return and the brain-cramp forward pass of the year by Kizer at the most inappropriate time possible would add to the improbability factor and bizarre nature of this one and their seemingly never-ending misery..
The game clock couldn’t move quickly enough for the fans as the formula by which the Browns achieved the lead began evaporating slowly. The huge upset they envisioned started slipping away.
For a while there, it looked as though new General Manager John Dorsey would be a prophet when he declared, “I believe the Cleveland Browns this weekend are going to win,” at his introductory news conference Friday.
The victory looked almost like a lock after the Cleveland defense shut down the Green Bay offense inside the 10-yard line late in the third quarter as the Packers shunned a field goal, and the offense drove 88 yards to take the 21-7 lead on Coleman’s touchdown.
And then they played the fourth quarter.
The comeback actually was born late in the third quarter right after the Browns took the two-touchdown lead. The Packers drove 75 yards against a noticeably softer Cleveland defense to shave the lead to seven with 12:50 left in regulation.
Jackson then smartly went to the ground in the next two possessions to eat up some time and that’s when the first sign of the collapse appeared. The offensive line stopped opening holes for the ground game. Seven of the next 11 plays were runs and gained just 24 yards.
With 2:57 left, Britton Colquitt skied a 53-yard punt, fielded by reserve wide receiver Trevor Davis at his 10-yard line. He found no room right and cut back to his left, finding daylight down the left sideline for 65 yards to the Cleveland 25. Short field, plenty of time. What could go wrong? Nothing.
Sensing impending doom is what Browns fans do so well. That sense reached reality seven plays later when Brett Hundley lobbed a scoring pass to Davante Adams, who beat Jason McCourty to the left corner on a first-and-goal from the one-foot line with 17 seconds left to tie the game.
The fans’ sense of doom lingered even though the Browns won the coin flip. They discovered why three plays into the extra session.
On third-and-2 at the Browns’ 33, Kizer dropped bask to pass, was flushed from the pocket when pressured by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III and drifted to his left, looking all the while downfield,
Instead of taking a 14-yard sack, he thoughtlessly, carelessly, awkwardly and downright foolishly heaved the ball while backpedaling, throwing it across his body. It sailed almost straight up into the air -- Matthews might have gotten a hand on it -- and landed among four Packers and two Browns. It was an interception waiting to happen.
Green Bay safety Josh Jones emerged with the football, Kizer slapped both the palms of both hands against his helmet as if to say, “Boy, am I an idiot,” and the game, for all practical purposes, was over.
Kizer has now thrown interceptions in 10 of the 12 games he has played, including the first six, and leads the National Football League with 17 picks. His three touchdown passes against Green Bay elevated his season total to nine.
On the fifth play of the ensuing series as the inevitable became reality, Hundley threw a little slip screen pass to Adams, who broke arm tackles by Myles Garrett and Mike Jordan to almost prance 25 yards into the end zone and then into the runway leading to the dressing room with 5:05 left.
It became just another chapter in the life of a once-proud NFL franchise that has set a record for futility that might last for a very, very long time.