Some people would say that Seneca Wallace's awkward-looking fumble in the fourth quarter was the best thing that could have happened to the Browns at this point of the season. The Browns aren't going to catch the Colts, Rams, or Vikings for one of the top three picks in the draft, but by losing to Arizona, they are very much in-the-hunt for getting a top five pick in April. I don't advocate that mentality prior to a game, and I doubt the players do as well; it's just something to look at in hindsight. Let's get to the full review of the game...
CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-10)
ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-7)
WEEK 15 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. ARIZONA CARDINALS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Goat of the Week: WR Mohamed Massaquoi - I had a really difficult time coming up with a goat this week. There were definitely players who made some mistakes, but none that I felt right about singling out. The one play that did frustrate me was when we were so close to connecting on a play that would've set the Browns up for a game-winning field goal attempt in overtime.
Seneca Wallace dropped back and did a pump fake to buy some more time in the pocket and then found Massaquoi open down the field. It's tough to tell (due to camera replays) whether Massaquoi was at fault for jumping too early, or if Wallace is at fault for throwing it a hair too high. Even if Wallace made the mistake, it's up to Massaquoi to adjust and make a big-time play in that situation. He didn't, and Cleveland was forced to punt.
- Awarding Game Balls: LB Chris Gocong - There were several players who I could have given a game ball too. The irony of these first two bullet points is that the Browns ended up losing the game. Gocong has really impressed me the past couple of weeks, and he seems to especially be thriving in Scott Fujita's old position. Not only is he making the sure tackles, but he's making quite a few plays behind the line of scrimmage. He finished Sunday's game with 9 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 tackles for a loss.
- Linebackers in General: Not only does Gocong deserve credit, but the linebackers as a unit did very well. I would say that it was Kaluka Maiava's best game of the season, as he finished with 5 tackles, 2 of them for a loss, and 2 special teams tackles. I questioned Maiava's future in Cleveland two weeks ago, and while he still needs to be more consistent, another couple of efforts like this will put make him a contender for a starting role next year. D'Qwell Jackson led the team in tackles again with 13, which might be a season high for him.
- Throwback Day for Little: For the first time in over a month, Greg Little looked like the receiver we saw earlier this season, mainly because instead of dropping the football, he was making big catches. He finished the game with a career high 131 yards on 5 catches, including a 76-yard touchdown reception in which both Little and Wallace did a nice job in the scramble drill. With a linebacker on Little, it wasn't too difficult for him to escape the coverage.
- Norwood Flashes Skills Again: Wide receiver Jordan Norwood had a drop the first time he was targeted, but on the next possession, he made two catches with a defender all over him. It might have looked like he was juggling the ball, but I look at it as him having good concentration to secure the ball amidst good coverage. On the next drive, he caught a pass and was oh-so-close to slipping the tackle but what could have been a huge play. Unfortunately, the "tackle" or slip was enough to get him on the ground.
- Hillis Runs Hard, Slips Up: I liked what I saw from Peyton Hillis on Sunday, but again we see the weird issues that Pat Shurmur is having with finding a good balance between Hillis and a complement back. Shurmur either goes 100 percent Hillis in the gameplan, or he goes 50 percent Hillis in the gameplan. Hillis finished the game with 26 carries for 99 yards and 1 touchdown. No other running back had a carry. Is it too much to ask for Chris Ogbonnaya to come in sometimes as a change-of-pace back?
Even though Chris Wells did not have a big day for the Cardinals, he had 15 carries while Arizona's primary backup running backs combined for five carries. On another note, I really wish Hillis didn't slip on that one carry he had in the first quarter. That had "big-play" written all over it.
- Skrine as the Kick Returner: I don't mean to keep ragging on Cribbs, who has been dealing with a groin injury lately. It can't be a coincidence that as soon as Buster Skrine gets involved on a kickoff though, he busts a 37-yard return. Every time Cribbs isn't returning the ball this season, it seems like someone is picking up a good chunk on their return(s). Speaking of Skrine, he had an awesome interception in the third quarter that should have sealed the game.
- Missed Opportunities: One complaint you can make about the Browns' defense is that they drop a lot of would-be interceptions. Mike Adams had one that rolled off of his body while he was on the ground, though to be fair, he had no idea the ball was there. Sheldon Brown jumped a route but was unable to snag an interception. We've seen this all year from our defensive backs and linebackers.
- Assessing Wallace: What did I see from Seneca Wallace? 100% what I expected to see. Wallace had a very quality spot start and showed the same thing he always shows: he can make good throws down the field, can have a few nice scrambles, has a good sense of timing in the West Coast Offense, and generally did a good job with ball placement. You have to live with a few other things though, like his difficulties connecting with receivers when the heat was brought in the second half and the awkward slip/fumble that allowed Arizona to tie the game.
- Down-the-Field With Cameron? It was great to see tight end Jordan Cameron get his feet wet with a few receptions, but the defenders were able to instantly bring him down when he caught the ball. I'd like to see him get some more work down-the-field or in the seams now that Alex Smith is out for the season as well.
- Maynard's Clutch Day: The overtime punt to Patrick Peterson was our coverage's fault in my opinion. The rest of the day, for all the work Maynard had to do, he kept the ball away from Peterson brilliantly. The play of the game might have come with under a minute to go in the fourth quarter.
With the game tied 17-17, the Browns had to punt from their own 15 yard line. If Maynard punted it out of bounds, Arizona would only need to go about 15-20 yards in 40 seconds to get into field goal range. Maynard surprised me by blasting the ball 55 yards down the field. As soon as Peterson caught the ball, cornerback Buster Skrine planted him for no gain.That sequence made it possible for the game to even get to overtime.
- Wallace's Fumble Shenanigans: Our affiliate at Revenge of the Birds does a good job trying to explain what happened on the Wallace fumble. To summarize, the referees ruled that Wallace's hand hit the ground only, meaning Wallace was not "down by contact" before the ball came out. My argument has me citing the following from the NFL Rule Book:
"A runner (in full possession of the ball) is contacted by an opponent while he is attempting to gain yardage. The contact causes the runner to hit the ground, at which time the ball comes loose.
Ruling: Play is dead when the impact jars the ball loose. No fumble."
- Special Teams Tackles: The Browns finished with seven special teams tackles, led by Kaluka Maiava with two tackles. LB Quinton Spears, S Eric Hagg, S Mike Adams, CB Buster Skrine, and WR Joshua Cribbs each had one tackle.
- Brownies: I just knew that Todd Heap would have a big game against us...the new "thing" for No. 1 receivers to do against the Browns is have their biggest (and basically only) catch of the game right at the end...Cribbs did have a 24-yard punt return on a play where literally no one was in front of him...I thought for sure that Dimitri Patterson was going to come away with a blocked punt...Jabaal Sheard tacked on two more sacks to his season total...the Cardinals were 8-of-16 on third down, aided by their hurry-up offense at two points in the game.
Up next, the Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens again. Hopefully the defense can contain Ray Rice this time around. Wallace might have some stuff to work with after seeing how Philip Rivers put together a masterpiece in "Dissecting the Ravens' Defense 101" last Sunday night.