Do you know what hurts worse than sucking? Playing exceptionally well and then blowing it.
In Peyton Hillis' return to the offense, the Cleveland Browns had a 17-7 lead in the first half. Although the defense had some trouble containing Cedric Benson in the first half, a late sack-fumble by Jabaal Sheard allowed the Browns to take a rare two-possession lead heading into the half. The Browns were running the ball pretty well and were being aggressive in the passing game.
And then...the second half happened. Things didn't go so bad at first. After Cincinnati kicked a field goal to make it 17-10, the Browns went right back down the field and added a long field goal of their own -- a 54-yarder -- to go back up by two possessions near the end of the third quarter.
That is where things started to take a turn downward. Just like Andy Dalton has done all season, he began a late-game charge, first chucking the ball up the sideline on two consecutive plays to put Cincinnati right back in it at 20-17 just before the end of the third quarter. On Cleveland's first play of the fourth quarter, Colt McCoy threw an ill-advised interception down the field. It led to three points for the Bengals, tying the game up at 20-20.
Both teams went back-and-forth after that, but the Browns receivers deserve a lot of blame for some terrible drops (particularly by Greg Little) that prevented drives from continuing. You can't blame Hillis, because he was still churning away some tough yardage and setting up shorter conversions for the passing game.
With only a couple of minutes left in the game, the Browns were facing a tough decision: kick a 55-yard field goal or punt the ball. The reasons against kicking the field goal? We were going into the wind now, and if we missed, the Bengals would barely have to do anything to get into field goal range. Pat Shurmur decided to go for it, probably due to Phil Dawson's tremendous accuracy on 50+ yard field goals this year. Unfortunately, Ryan Pontbriand continues to struggle this season. His snap was rolled to Brad Maynard, who barely got to hold the ball up for Dawson. Dawson's kick was well short and wide left, but if the hold is good there, for all we know it could've been a different story.
On the Bengals' first third-down of the next drive, Dalton had pressure in his face and chucked the ball down the middle of the field. Rookie receiver A.J. Green went high into the air and snagged the ball for a huge completion before racing toward the goal line and out of bounds. A few plays later, the Bengals kicked a field goal to take their first lead of the game at 23-20. With no timeouts to work with and very little time left on the clock, Cleveland still had a chance since they only needed a field goal. Another drop by Little killed that idea though, and the Browns turned the ball over on downs.
The Browns now have a 4-7 record and have been eliminated from playoff contention. Maybe not mathematically, but they went from possibly being one game behind a wildcard spot to being three games behind a wildcard spot. Overall, this was a good, but ultimately frustrating game to watch. There is a lot to be happy about, but also a lot to be disappointed with. UGH!