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A Close Finish: Jets Barely Escape Overtime With 26-20 Win

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When the Cleveland Browns lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers about a month ago, it seemed like the season was over. I liked the direction our team was moving in and how the team had been playing under Eric Mangini, but the upcoming schedule seemed too rough to overcome. Who would have guessed that the Browns would beat the defending Super Bowl Champions in New Orleans, destroy the New England Patriots at home, and take the New York Jets to the final seconds of overtime before a heartbreaking loss?

The Browns just took some of the best that the NFL has to offer and showed why they are a team on the rise. If any of our opponents look at the schedule and see the Browns on it, they would be fools to synonymize them with a "guaranteed win." I was crushed after the loss to the Jets, and I know there's no such thing as a good loss, but our effort certainly wasn't one that would lead me to believe we aren't the favorites heading into our next five games.

Let's get to the review of this week's game, starting with the goats and then the game ball...


Goats of the Game:

  • Chansi Stuckey: First off, I need to make it clear that I don't blame Stuckey for the loss against the Jets. His mistake came at the most inopportune time, which is the reason it gets highlighted here. In an effort to fight for extra yardage, Stuckey fumbled the football in overtime, allowing the Jets to recover. I felt terrible after the play, not just as a fan, but for Stuckey as well. You can feel that everyone on this Browns team supports each other, and you have to imagine it was killing Stuckey that he made a costly mistake at such a critical moment for his teammates.
    There seemed to be a lot of debate as to whether or not Stuckey should have stepped out of bounds. In hindsight, of course it would have been great for him to step out. On the replay review, I was praying that his toe had grazed the out of bounds line, but it didn't. Stuckey didn't go out because his signature move is fighting for extra yards after the catch. We've seen it several times this season. In fact, he did it earlier in the game against the Jets, and the move yielded him a first down. In the case of overtime, he already had the first down, but was trying to get more yards for Phil Dawson. Maybe Peyton Hillis could get those yards easily on the next couple of plays, or maybe he doesn't. I really can't fault a guy for trying to get extra yardage, but ultimately you need to find a way to hold on to the football.
  • Shaun Rogers: There were several players guilty of this, but even without an injury to Mark Sanchez, there is no way he should have been able to escape the grasp of our defenders like he was. Rogers had a chance in overtime to bring him down, and it could have forced a reverse scenario in which the Jets would have punted to Cleveland, giving Colt McCoy a short field to work with.

Awarding the Game Ball:

  • Colt McCoy: The game-tying touchdown drive with under two minutes to play was a thing of beauty. Throughout the game, McCoy did a very good job again. There were a few times where I initially wondered why he didn't throw the football to someone (he would tuck and run instead), but upon replay, I would've been frightened had he let it loose given the coverage I saw.

General Thoughts:

  1. Lots of Plays Scrutinized: Stuckey's choice to not go out of bounds in overtime was just one of the plays that were scrutinized. I'll take a look at a bunch more here, and my thoughts on each of them.
  2. Onside Kick to Joe Haden: I almost made Joe Haden a goat for this one, but I couldn't because the blame could also be on Phil Dawson. This seemed like a case where special teams coordinator Brad Seely did his homework, because the Jets weren't ready for it on that side of the field. It should have worked.
    The play really came down to those two players executing -- Dawson and Haden. Dawson kicked it at least ten yards, but either he kicked it a tad too short or Haden overran it. It's a bang-bang play, so timing is key in the recovery. I'm more inclined to blame Haden. Cleveland was trying to get off to the same two possession leads they got against New Orleans and New England.
  3. Shotgun at the Goal Line: I haven't scratched my head at the playcalling since the first couple of weeks of the season, which is a good thing. However, in the second quarter, after the 37-yard catch-and-run to Joshua Cribbs, the Browns had first-and-goal at the 5. The Browns lined up in Shotgun on their next three plays, and weren't able to get the ball into the end zone.
    The first play was a Shotgun draw to Hillis, the second play was a very obvious-looking swing pass to Hillis, and third play was an incompletion to Evan Moore. It seemed too "cute" given the near 100% success it seems we've had with pounding the ball with Peyton Hillis down there and a lead block from Lawrence Vickers. That's how the Browns scored their first touchdown. If there was to be more of a surprise, you can always playaction from that look and fire it to the tight end.
  4. Two-Point Conversion: When the Browns made it 20-19 with their touchdown inside of two minutes to play, a two-point conversion would've won the game (with a quick stop of the Jets). Instead, Cleveland elected for the conventional extra point. After the game, Mangini said he discussed the thought of going for two with Brad Seely, but opted for overtime. Overtime was fine with me, and we had our chances.
  5. Haden's Overtime Interception: This is the play that kind of irritated me when listening to the media and some of the fans' reactions, because I thought Joe Haden made the right play. He was matched up against Braylon Edwards, a player who has a good chance of wrestling a ball away if you go for the swat. If Haden secures the ball himself, the Jets aren't going to get it. I'm not so sure Haden knew where on the field he was either -- it's not like he fair caught a punt at the three.
    Also, there seems to be an assumption that the Jets wouldn't have been able to pin the Browns back with a punt. Would you really want Chansi Stuckey fielding that punt too after the mistake he made earlier and the muff he had against Pittsburgh a month ago? I wish we could've had better starting field position on our final drive, but I don't blame Haden for that in any way, shape, or form.
  6. The Last Drive: I thought it was a great call to run a playaction and target Ben Watson deep on our final offensive drive. Again, if you look at the replay, this was a case where it worked in terms of play design. Watson was open around the 35, but Colt McCoy's throw unfortunately sailed. The second play was a run that only went for two yards, yardage that is less than the norm for Hillis. If he gets five yards there, I think Cleveland goes a little more hurry up and tries to throw for the third down. Since the run "failed" in essence, Mangini took time off the clock and then hoped that a third-down conversion would seal a tie. It didn't.
  7. Punt Coverage: Despite being backed up at his own two yard line, Reggie Hodges boomed it down to the 45. The problem was, partially because Cleveland was protecting from a punt block, that return man Jim Leonhard returned the punt 18 yards, with the Jets 37 yards away from the end zone.
  8. Holmes' Game-Sealing Touchdown: This one hurt. Eric Wright needs to get a piece of Santonio Holmes, but so do Eric Barton or T.J. Ward. None of them did, and Holmes too the slant pass all the way for the score. This was the play I feared all game long, and it figures that they finally ran it at this point of the game. It caught our defenders off guard and was a great call by the Jets. Even if we make the tackle, it sets up Nick Folk in range for a field goal.
  9. Kudos to Sanchez: I kind of ripped Sanchez heading into the game, and while I fault our defense for not bringing him down more, he still did a heck of a job escaping pressure and then throwing perfect passes that were painful to watch as a fan. He played tough through his injury too.
  10. Don't Look at the Jets' YPC: If you look at the yards per carry average for Jets running backs Shonn Greene (3.6) and LaDainian Tomlinson (3.2) in the game, it seems like the Browns did a decent job stopping them. Both backs were instrumental in moving the chains on third down or setting up shorter third-down passing situations for Sanchez throughout the game. Both backs hurt the Browns out of the backfield too.
  11. The Injury Chart: I'd venture to say that losing Scott Fujita, Sheldon Brown, and Joshua Cribbs for significant portions of the game played a factor in the Browns losing. It was nice to see the backups step in and continue to play hard, but without three veteran players like that, who knows how differently things could've gone.
    Example -- Fujita was hurt during the second quarter. Who is to say that he doesn't make a third down stop on a Jet running back in the third quarter, preventing the killer ten-minute drive from being as long as it was? After all, Fujita is the leader of the defense, and I'm sure his presence rubs off on the rest of our players. I hope his absence doesn't hurt us too much over the next five weeks, and that he can return for Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
  12. Time of Possession: In case you didn't see the second half numbers, here's how the time of possession was distributed for the half:
    Jets: 22 minutes, 59 seconds
    Browns: 7 minutes, 1 second
    Yikes! I fault our defense more, because they let a ten minute drive happen before the offense had a chance to touch the ball. It's easier said than done to say that the offense needs to get a first down after being off the field for so long.
  13. Bag of Tricks: The Browns have run the fake reverse a lot (where they have the receiver come in motion but still hand off to the running back), but they did it early on with Cribbs and it yielded 14 yards. They also ran a nice little trick reverse run with Mohamed Massaquoi. The run went for about eight yards, but was called back due to a holding penalty. If you missed it, Peyton Hillis was at QB. He took the snap, handed to Cribbs, who when handed to Massaquoi. The Jets tried to run a pitchback fleaflicker, but it didn't work.
  14. Concern of Smith: I was worried about Brad Smith running the ball from the quarterback position before the game, but I neglected to mention it. Smith was effective for the Jets, carrying 5 times for 39 yards. David Garrard isn't as quick as Smith, but I hope his mobility doesn't present our Fujita-less defense a problem this week.
  15. Backup Running Back: This week's trial run went to Thomas Clayton, who had 1 carry for...0 yards. That's way too small of a sample size, but it's just amazing how our fill-ins can't even muster any yardage when given a chance.
  16. Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had five special teams tackles, with three of them going to Titus Brown. The other two were split between Marcus Benard and Joe Haden.
  17. No Turnovers on Defense: Besides the overtime interception, which I don't really count, the Browns didn't record a turnover. They had two chances though, and both plays involved drops from the safeties again. T.J. Ward stepped in front of Braylon Edwards on the Jets' first drive to knock the ball down near the goal line.
    In a similar-looking play, Abram Elam basically picked the ball and then somehow juggled it high into the air before it fell incomplete. The score was 17-13 at the time, and a McCoy-led touchdown to finish the game could've meant a Browns victory. Our safeties need to be coached up on coming away with some of these plays.
  18. Opportunities Galore: If you read this review, you've seen a lot of "what ifs" -- it almost seems like the Browns would've won this game if they made just one of those plays. For every argument though, there is a counter argument -- Nick Folk missed three field goals, and each one gave Cleveland the opportunity to even have those "what if" scenarios in the first place. How many kickers are going to miss a 24-yard chip shot against us?
  19. Edwards' Return to Cleveland: I was glad that Braylon Edwards didn't tear us apart, but the whole Braylon storyline ended up being a footnote in the actual outcome of the game. Besides the early mix up that knocked Sheldon Brown out of the game, Edwards was just a normal receiver who caught the football when he was called upon. At least he was cordial after the game, speaking pleasant about the Browns for a chance. That doesn't mean I change my opinion of him, but if he stops talking nonsense, maybe I'll start looking the other way too.
  20. Brownies: The announcers seemed confused that McCoy heaved a pass right off the bat to Evan Moore, covered by Darrelle Revis, on our final drive, but I liked the call...the Browns came back to the matchup shortly after over the middle, something all of us have been calling for, and it set up the game-tying touchdown...Peyton Hillis remains tough as nails on his runs, but the first quarter fumbles are a pest...Eric Mangini said he would've tried a 57-yard field goal to end overtime at most (otherwise, it sounds like he would've gone for the Hail Mary).

The Browns played three good games in a row, and now they face the likes of Jacksonville, Carolina, Miami, Buffalo, and Cincinnati. I feel like Cleveland can go 5-0 during that stretch if they play at a high level, but now they'll need to overcome injuries and show that they don't need a "big-time atmosphere" to play like a "big-time team."