Marching toward the wrong kind of NFL history
The Browns actually played a very competitive football game Sunday in Los Angeles against the Chargers. On defense, that is.
For most of the afternoon, Browns fans were treated to a display reminiscent of old Cleveland Browns defense. Real old Cleveland Browns defense. The bend-but-don’t-break kind of defense.
The Chargers had the opportunity to score points on their first six possessions and did so on five, crafting a 19-10 lead out of them and making it stand up because the Cleveland offense imploded at the end of the game due mainly to the carelessness of quarterback DeShone Kizer, who suffered brain cramps twice.
What’s a Browns loss without something going terribly wrong at the most inappropriate time? Like the end of a game when winning is a possibility. This club has made it an art form.
In a game that could have, should have and would have been won with any kind of timely offensive precision to shatter several embarrassing losing streaks merely ended as just another one of those frustrating losses that seem to characterize this team and infuriate their fan base.
The litany is all too familiar. Let’s see now . . . that’s 12 straight losses this season for the National Football League’s only winless team; 13 in a row overall; 29 straight losses on Sunday; 19 in a row on the road; a 4-45 record in the last 49 games; and a 1-27 record for Hue Jackson as the boss.
And let’s not forget it has been 344 days since the Browns last felt good about something quite foreign to them – a victory. That was against these same Chargers last Christmas Eve afternoon and ended a 377-day dry spell between victories.
The offense, typically operating in fits and starts Sunday, actually had a chance to make it two straight victories over the Chargers, driving well into Los Angeles territory twice in the fourth quarter with the Chargers clinging to their precarious margin.
The Cleveland offensive line protected Kizer zealously against a Chargers pass rush that averaged three sacks a game. He was dropped only once in the first 55 minutes of the game. That all changed in the final five minutes.
The Browns marched 81 yards to the Chargers’ 15-yard line in 12 plays on the first drive, featuring passes to tight ends David Njoku (33 yards) and Seth DeValve (25 yards) and a 17-yard quarterback draw by Kizer before stalling.
Facing a third-and-10, Kizer lost all track of time when unable to find an open receiver and was strip-sacked by Joey Bosa from the blind side after what seemed like at least seven or eight seconds. He unwisely chose not to throw the ball away and settle for a field goal to cut the lead to 19-13,
Then the defense, which had surrendered five possessions of at least 10 plays and spent way too much time on the field, got the ball back for the offense. Out of timeouts because Jackson had taken taken them earlier to give his exhausted defense a rest, Kizer promptly connected with Josh Gordon on a 39-yard bomb to the Los Angeles 28 at the two-minute warning.
Time for brain cramp No. 2.
On the first play with 1:58 left in regulation, Kizer again failed to find an open receiver and was sacked by Darius Philon. Again the question arose: Why didn’t he just throw the ball away? It would have stopped the clock.
It unbelievably took the Browns 36 seconds to get off the next snap primarily because Gordon, whose route on the play had taken him to the end zone, casually loped of the field and Ricardo Louis took way too much time to flank out.
Purely in the nature of a second guess, the Browns should have taken a five-yard penalty for something just to stop the clock.
It was an inexcusable mismanagement of time and lack of hustle.
On the very next play, Kizer tried to squeeze a pass to DeValve, who was double covered and it wound up in the hands of Los Angeles safety Adrian Phillips with 74 seconds left.
There is a lack of discipline, it seems, on the offense this season with the ability to wisely make instant decisions sadly missing. There is no excuse for not thinking of the consequences in the event a play breaks down. It’s just not there.
Kizer had the opportunity to throw the ball away twice and failed. At that point, the clock was their enemy. It needed to be stopped. Either something is wrong with Kizer’s internal clock or his thought processes are incredibly slow.
Maybe it’s because he is a rookie and you can’t expect him to be totally aware at all times. Then again, the Browns are three-fourths of the way through the season and the same mistakes that were supposedly cleaned up earlier keep cropping up.
On the plus side, Kizer displayed explosion, putting his rocket arm on display on several occasions. He lasered a sensational straight-as-a string 28-yard scoring dart to Njoku as the rookie tight end was running in stride on a skinny post on the first play following the two-minute warning in the first half.
His 33-yarder to Njoku midway through the fourth quarter got the Browns out from under their goalpost and headed toward what eventually would be a disaster. But when Kizer had to make a clutch play, he failed far too often.
It all added up to yet another loss in a streak that moves this woebegone franchise closer and closer to the kind of NFL history with which no team wants to be associated.
It’s enough to make one ill just thinking about it.