Do you believe in miracles? Nope.
The Browns lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 33-27, on a blocked field goal return for a touchdown in front of a shocked First Energy Stadium on Monday Night Football.
Even by Cleveland’s standards, that was a bad loss.
Poor special teams play and awful clock management characterized another crushing loss for the Browns. Following a pair of solid drives by backup quarterback Austin Davis, the Browns blew a chance to beat the Ravens.
Thanks to this classic Cleveland loss, the Browns drop to 2-9 on the season. Since 1999, the Browns have now lost 42 games by one score or less, including 22 on the last play of the game.
The loss also brings a myriad of questions. Who will start at quarterback next week following the injury to Josh McCown? Is Austin Davis a good quarterback? Are the jobs of Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer safe?
The answers to these questions will become apparent as the week continues. The takeaways from this week, however, are anything but questionable. Here are my takes on the Browns’ inexplicable loss to the Ravens:
1. That was ugly: Monday night’s contest ended in the worst possible fashion for the Browns. Words cannot accurately describe the pure awfulness of how the Browns lost to the Ravens.
With 1:47 remaining, Austin Davis capped off a 6-play, 71-yard drive with a beautiful 42-yard touchdown strike to Travis Benjamin. The perfect play tied the game at 27. Could the Browns pull off a last minute victory?
After the teams traded punts, Tramon Williams intercepted Matt Schaub with 50 seconds to play in the game, granting the Browns the ball inside Ravens territory with a chance to win.
In almost comical fashion, the Browns squandered the promising opportunity and lost the game on the final play.
On the first play of the potential game-winning drive, Davis completes a 6-yard pass across the middle to Brian Hartline. As the clock is ticking, Davis takes his time at the line, calling out blitz protections and playing tiddlywinks. Nearly 25 seconds run off the clock before the Browns finally run another play, a 7-yard scramble by Davis.
Mind you, the Browns had two timeouts remaining before burning one following Davis’ scramble. Head coach Mike Pettine blamed the problem on faulty headset communication between offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and Davis, but Pettine still failed to call a timeout.
Then, with nine seconds remaining, the Browns called a run play before calling another timeout. The team’s awful time management forced a 51-yard field goal attempt, the longest in rookie Travis Coons’ career. His previous long kick was 44 yards, though he had never missed a field goal in his NFL career.
Then the unthinkable happened.
An unknown Ravens rookie named Brent Urban bulldozed his way between the Browns’ two 2015 first round draft picks, Cameron Erving and Danny Shelton, to block Coons’ kick. Even worse, Will Hill III of the Ravens scooped up the ball and dashed 64 yards for the game-winning score.
And just like a bad daytime soap opera, the Browns lost, 33-27.
As left tackle Joe Thomas said after the game, there are some bad ways to lose, but this was one of the worst.
Special Terrible teams: The Browns’ special teams lost the Browns a very winnable game on Monday Night Football. Thanks to two critical plays, the Browns lost a heartbreaker.
The first big play occurred on the Ravens’ first punt return of the game. Following an ugly three-and-out, the Browns were forced to punt early in the first quarter. The Ravens set the tone for the game with the ensuing play.
On a lazy play by the Browns’ special teams, three different players missed tackles as Baltimore’s Kaelin Clay scampered 82 yards for a punt return touchdown. Clay has speed, but the Browns’ failure to maintain their lanes and contain Clay led to the touchdown.
Christian Kirksey was the first to miss the tackle, but a number of Browns deserve the blame for the bad play. The punt return unit is an independent team, reliant on all 11 players to do their jobs. If one or two players miss contain, an opposing return man can make you pay. That’s exactly what happened on the play.
Thus the Browns began the game in a 7-0 hole, which the team finally climbed out of in the third quarter.
As mentioned above, the second critical play came on the infamous field goal attempt.
One question immediately comes to mind about the blocked field goal: How in the heck did Erving and Shelton get beat so badly? These two players are supposed to be the future of the franchise. These two players were selected in the first round. How could both perform so poorly on such a critical play?
Clock management aside, the loss falls on the shoulders of these two young men. Coons does not have an incredible leg and is not a proven kicker. Even if the kick gets past the Ravens’ defenders, there’s no guarantee the field goal is good. However, the failure of Erving and Shelton to execute on such a critical play says something about the front office and coaching staff.
To the special teams’ credit, Coons did hit field goals of 31 and 21 yards earlier in the game, and Andy Lee enjoyed a solid day.
Even still, Browns fans must be yearning for the days of Phil Dawson.
3. Not McClowning around: Following a rough start, Josh McCown and the Browns’ offense answered a fast Ravens start with authority. McCown enjoyed a solid night before his injury.
In a play resembling a Johnny Manziel "What the heck just happened?" moment, McCown brought the game within one score in the second quarter. McCown found Marlon Moore for a 10-yard touchdown strike on a broken play, narrowing Baltimore’s lead to 17-10. On a play that started terribly, McCown first considered a scramble, before reconsidering and rolling out to his left. The veteran found Moore for a touchdown, critically swinging momentum towards the Browns.
As expected, DeFilippo repeatedly isolated Gary Barnidge in single coverage. More often than not, DeFilippo and the Browns opted for an empty set on big plays. The tactic worked well, particularly early on in the game.
McCown and the Browns exploited the Ravens’ weakness in the short game, as Baltimore’s secondary struggled to cover Barnidge and Travis Benjamin using zone coverages on blitz calls. DeFilippo called a wide variety of creative pass routes for Barnidge and Benjamin. Barnidge ran drags, slants, and crossing routes, finding openings all over the Ravens’ defense.
Credit DeFilippo and the offensive coaching staff: the Browns’ gameplan put the offense in a position to succeed. Unfortunately, the team’s two minute offense sputtered and the special teams could not execute, leading to the loss.
4. Under pressure: Josh McCown did not receive much protection from his offensive line, exiting the game with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. Say what you will about the offensive line, but the Browns did not protect McCown from a fierce Ravens’ front seven.
Pro Football Focus and others have lauded the Browns’ offensive line for its pass protection. Tonight, the offensive line did not live up to the billing.
The Browns’ offensive line allowed Baltimore to land 12 hits on McCown through just three quarters. The Ravens managed only one sack, due to stellar play by McCown, but the veteran signalcaller still absorbed plenty of punishing body blows.
The hits finally began to take a toll in the fourth quarter. McCown exited the game in the fourth, as a pass caused McCown to grimace due to shoulder pain. Before he came on the field for the drive, McCown was clearly in pain on the sidelines, but he convinced the trainers to allow him to stay on the field.
As for the offensive line, further film study will reveal exactly who is to blame, but Cameron Erving did not play well against defensive tackles Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams.
Playing for an injured Joel Bitonio, Erving struggled again on Monday. The 2015 first round pick showed poor form on pass plays, often needing double teams to avoid surrendering sacks.
Erving can be a special player, but left guard does not appear to be his future position.
5. The new face of the future? Austin Davis orchestrated a late touchdown drive and looked stellar in his Browns debut. Following McCown’s injury, Davis could be the guy.
McCown left the game in the fourth quarter with a collarbone, an injury that could keep out the journeyman quarterback for the rest of the season, according to Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
If McCown is "cleared, he’ll play," Pettine said after the game, but if McCown is out, the quarterback void opens again. Will the Browns stick with Davis or grant Johnny Manziel another chance at the limelight?
Davis made a strong case for himself on Monday, completing 7-of-10 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Davis started 6-of-7 for 71 yards and tossed a 42-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin to tie the game at 27.
Davis did take a sack and allowed nearly 25 seconds of clock to slip away in the final minute, but Davis looked composed in the pocket and made some nice reads. In limited time, Davis showed the makings of a solid NFL quarterback.
The question now becomes how the Browns will handle the quarterback situation. Pettine has mishandled the position since he joined the Browns, showing indecision in his choice of who to start at the critical position each week. The problem has become particularly evident this season in Pettine’s treatment of Manziel.
Speaking of Manziel, when will the Browns begin to trust the 22 year old again? What must Manziel do to win the Browns over again?
Regardless of the answer, Davis could be an appealing option for the Browns. But the team has a big problem on its hands. Start Davis and let Manziel languish on the bench for his transgressions? Or start Manziel and show indecisiveness?
6. Red zone blues: In typical fashion, the Browns offense sputtered upon entering the red zone. In three trips, the Browns scored 13 points, reaching the end zone just once.
The Browns’ failure to convert red zone trips into touchdowns has been a well-documented flaw of this team since its return in 1999. The problem is particularly prevalent this season, as the Browns rank last in the league in the red zone.
The Browns’ first trip appeared promising, as Barnidge hauled in a 16-yard catch on a critical 4th and 1 play. Three plays later, McCown and the offensive line failed to recognized a Ravens blitz off the edge, leading to a two-yard loss on a 3rd down run play.
McCown scored the Browns’ lone offensive touchdown on an impressive scrambling pass play to Moore, narrowing the team’s deficit to one score. However, if it weren’t for McCown’s improvisation skills, the chance would have gone for naught.
The Browns’ third trip occurred late in the first half. At the tail end of an impressive drive with less than two minutes left in the second quarter, Erving missed a block on 3rd and goal, forcing a McCown incompletion and a Coons field goal.
Coons connected on the 31-yard attempt, narrowing the Browns’ deficit to 17-13 heading into halftime, but the Browns could have tied or even taken a lead into halftime with better execution in the red zone.
Converting on even one more of these opportunities would have changed the entire complexion of the game in the second half. Until the team figures out its red zone problem, the Browns will sputter.
7. Iffy defense: The Browns churned out mixed results in Monday night’s loss. The Browns’ defense produced big plays, but also allowed several large gains to an offense composed almost entirely of backups.
Without the likes of Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, and other key playmakers, the Ravens’ offense did not have its typical dynamic flair. But the Ravens still picked up yards in bunches. Schaub completed 20-of-34 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Javoris "Buck" Allen gained 55 yards on 12 runs and Terrance West notched 37 yards on seven carries.
The Cleveland defense is not the culprit in the loss, but it contributed. The Browns surrendered 336 yards and 20 points to the Ravens, both high totals for a team missing as many as 5-6 skill players on offense.
Poor tackling is at the root of the Browns’ defensive problems. The defense misses easy tackles in the open field and fails to make plays at the point of attack. Shedding blocks is another area of concern for the Browns, as the front seven appears incapable of getting off blocks at the first level.
To the credit of the Browns’ defense, the Ravens converted just 2-of-11 third downs. However, the Ravens converted both fourth down attempts, including a 4th and 1 from the Baltimore 25-yard line.
Without the Browns’ defense, though, the hosts would have received a knockout blow from the Ravens much earlier. Karlos Dansby intercepted Schaub and returned the pick for six early in the third quarter, granting the Browns a 20-17 lead. Dansby’s 52-yard touchdown did not spark the Browns’ defense, but it gave the team big points while the offense struggled.
And lost in the fracas of the loss is Tramon Williams’ big interception with 50 seconds left. The veteran corner jumped a curl route to secure the interception and give the Browns a chance to win. Williams deserves praise for his big play late in the game.
As a unit, the defense did not play terribly. But the Browns’ defense certainly needs to improve heading into next week’s showdown with the Bengals.
Bonus Talking Point: Laugh it off, Cleveland. This is not a point about the game, but about how to absorb the loss.
As Cleveland fans, we should be used to this type of loss by now. For most, however, time does not heal all things.
We’ll still be talking about this one 10 years later, just like we still reminisce about Dwayne Ruud’s infamous helmet toss and the notorious Bottlegate.
At this point, all we can do is laugh and say, ‘Typical Browns.’ Let’s not get too crazy and start burning jerseys and calling for heads.
The time for doing this will come soon enough. In the meantime, let’s laugh and try to dream of the day when the Browns will finally win a meaningful game.