Did you expect anything less?
The Cleveland Browns lost in spectacular fashion yet again on Sunday, falling to the Dolphins in overtime, 30-24.
The culprit this week? Missed field goals.
New Browns kicker Cody Parkey botched three field goals, including a potential game-winner as the clock expired in the fourth quarter.
Amidst the loss, positives still abound. The Browns played quite a game. Lost in the wailing and gnashing of teeth is the Browns’ 11-point fourth quarter comeback and key defensive play to nearly win the game. Terrelle Pryor played phenomenally, too.
But still, this young Browns squad found a way to lose, just like past teams before it.
Here are your seven talking points for the water cooler on Monday morning:
1. Not a bad debut: For a first game, Cody Kessler did well, despite a tough start.
Thrown into the fire as a rookie, Kessler looked awful in the early going, fumbling twice in his first three plays. It was easy to feel sorry for the guy. A third round pick originally slated as the third quarterback, Kessler was suddenly thrown into the starting role. That’s not easy.
But then something strange happened: Kessler started to settle down. Spelled by Terrelle Pryor, Kessler looked more at ease in the pocket. Kessler stuck in the pocket more often. Though Kessler was over reliant of Pryor in the early going, Kessler began to progress through his reads as the game continued.
One of Kessler’s best throws came on a fade route on the offense’s two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. Kessler re-entered the game after referees forced him to undergo concussion testing, throwing a perfect ball to Gary Barnidge to bring the Browns within three points.
Kessler threw some nice balls when he had time to operate in the pocket, completing 21-of-33 passes for 244 yards. Even when Kessler did not have much time, he scrambled out of the pocket to avoid pressure, save for the three sacks he absorbed.
More impressively, Kessler had the smarts to throw the ball out of bounds when no receivers were open. That’s a skill many quarterbacks never learn.
Kessler might not have the biggest or most accurate arm on the league, but Kessler kept his team in the game and put the Browns in a position to win. That’s all you can ask out of a rookie.
2. Still not special teams: Cody Parkey owns much of the blame for the Browns’ loss.
It’s easy to blame the kicker after a loss, particularly a close one like today. Many times, the team owns more of the blame than the kicker, but not so today. Head coach Hue Jackson tried to deflect the blame, but Parkey shoulders it.
Parkey missed three field goals, including the potential game-winner.
Sure, you can say the Browns’ offense shouldn’t have relied on Parkey to kick five field goals today. Sure, you can say the field goals weren’t chip shots.
But an NFL kicker should be able to convert on most, if not all field goals, within 50 yards on a nice weather day without too much wind (16 mph according to the NFL). Parkey missed kicks of 41, 42, and 46 yards.
Since the departure of Phil Dawson, the Browns have struggled with field goal kickers. Billy Cundiff, Garrett Hartley, Travis Coons, Patrick Murray, and now Parkey.
I’ll go to my deathbed upset that the Browns let Dawson walk. If the Browns have Dawson, it’s a win.
To Parkey’s credit, it’s extremely tough to kick on a Sunday after receiving a call from a team on a Friday asking you to play. I feel for him. To fail like that on such a stage must be gut-wrenching.
On the other side of the coin, you have to be a professional and do your job. If you fail to do so in the NFL, you’ll be out of a job really quick.
Whatever way you slice it, today was a tough day for Parkey, and a tougher one for the Browns.
3. Who are these guys? Racked by injuries, the Browns saw several youngsters step up.
Before the game, no one had heard of Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Now, Browns fans should know the name. The rookie out of Minnesota returned an interception 27 yards to the end zone. The player who pressured quarterback Ryan Tannehill? Another no-name — Tyrone Holmes, a defensive end signed by the Browns a couple weeks ago.
Besides the pick, Boddy-Calhoun had an iffy day. The rookie fell on one completion and was fooled by a curl route for 23 yards on another play. Still, the youngster already looks better than Justin Gilbert.
Derrick Kindred also performed well against the Dolphins, showing a nose for the ball from his safety spot. He did struggle to cover Jarvis Landry, allowing a big 3rd down completion and missing a tackle on Landry’s lengthy touchdown reception. But blanketing a No. 1 wideout in single coverage should not be Kindred’s responsibility. Plus Kindred had a nice game otherwise.
Speaking of youngsters, Ricardo Louis caught his first NFL pass today, though it did not go well. After hauling in a 6-yard toss, Louis had the ball punched out, though he quickly recovered.
The Miami native more than made up for the mistake early in the fourth quarter hauling in a 28-yard pass from Kessler to set up the Browns in the red zone.
Another little-known player, Cory Lemonier, made one of the biggest plays of the day for the Browns. The Dolphins were driving with under a minute remaining in the game before Lemonier attacked Tannehill. The Auburn product strip-sacked Tannehill, recovering the fumble, too.
Lemonier’s big play would have the Browns a golden opportunity to win in the final seconds, if not for a missed Parkey field goal.
4. Grounding it out: The Browns running game continued to impress this week, opening holes against the Dolphins’ defense.
The Dolphins had no answer for the Browns’ running game in the first half, as the Browns’ interior offensive line opened big holes for Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. The two combined for 12 carries for 66 yards in the first 30 minutes.
Even on plays in which the offensive line failed Crowell, the shifty runner cut back to find space on the outside. Johnson also showed nice vision, dodging defenders and running as well as he ever has for the Browns.
Johnson flashed impressive burst through the hole, too. Even after his return from injury, Johnson showed off plenty of speed. The second-year player also proved to be a safe checkdown option for Kessler.
Reliable running by Crowell and Johnson allowed the Browns to drive down the field on their first drive of the second half, before penalties and a missed 49-yard field goal ended a promising drive.
Crowell helped the Browns with a clutch 25-yard run to give the team some breathing room after an ill-timed holding call with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
As a team, the Browns rushed 32 times for 169 yards, or a 5.3 yards per carry average. That’s something to build on.
5. Mr. Do-it-all: Pryor pulled off a big performance for the Browns. With a host of injuries to other offensive players, Pryor stepped up big-time.
After Kessler struggled in the first quarter, Pryor played some quarterback to ease the pressure on the rookie. Pryor performed well, accounting for 67 yards by himself in the first stanza. The former Buckeye completed a nice pass to Barnidge, ran several times, and hauled in a pass from Kessler.
As Kessler reassumed the reins of the offense in the second and third quarter, Pryor filled the role of Corey Coleman, becoming the top receiver. Pryor ran his routes with speed and precision. On one play, Pryor found a hole in the middle of the Dolphins’ zone defense with a well-run curl route.
Then early in the fourth quarter, Pryor stepped in at the end of a Browns’ drive. The referees ordered the Browns to check Kessler for a concussion, so Jackson brought in Pryor at quarterback.
Pryor looked like a veteran, running around the left edge for a 3-yard touchdown run from the shotgun formation. Crowell aided Pryor with a well-executed lead block, but Pryor’s acceleration was something to behold.
The Browns’ next drive sputtered, in part due to Kessler’s failure to throw a catchable ball on back-to-back passes. The next series, the Browns briefly inserted Pryor at quarterback.
Pryor connected with Louis for a nice 6-yard pass before returning to his role on wideout the next play, snatching a reception across the middle and dodging defenders all the way. The 40-yard reception set the Browns up for a 38-yard field goal to tie the game at 24 with 3:14 left in the fourth.
Pryor made another big play early in overtime, overpowering a Dolphins’ defender to haul in a short pass on third down and extend the Browns’ first drive of the extra period.
Who could have predicted Pryor would play this well this season?
6. Cuteness Overload: In the absence of a proven quarterback, head coach Hue Jackson and the Browns used a gimmicky offense.
As was the case in week 1, the Browns turned to trick plays in the first half. The offense used reverses, strange formations with offensive linemen split out wide, and Pryor at quarterback.
Many of the tricks didn’t work. Pryor did perform well at quarterback, with the exception of a near interception.
At the same time, the Browns’ first offensive play resulted in a delay of game, as Kessler couldn’t get the snap off after audibling out of a strange formation. Kessler appeared out of rhythm on the next few snaps, fumbling on back-to-back plays.
The Browns started to run a more conservative offense as the game continued, using more runs and playaction throws. That approach worked quite well, especially with the ground game.
Jackson’s exotic calls are useful at times, as his idea to play Pryor at quarterback proved to be a great decision. At other times, though, Jackson’s cute ideas backfired.
Give Jackson credit — he’s not afraid to try different things. We’ll see if his audacity continues in the weeks ahead.
7. Better day for the D: The defensive showed lots of improvement on Sunday. Give this defense credit, it figured out the Dolphins in the second half.
Missing playmakers such as Carl Nassib and Joe Haden, the defense showed up today with lots of big plays. Jamar Taylor started the game off nicely with an interception, Boddy-Calhoun returned a pick to the house, and Lemonier had the clutch strip-sack at the end of the fourth quarter.
Other players enjoyed great games, too. Emmanuel Ogbah, still working on the transition to outside backer, deflected a pass and forced Tannehill to rush throws. Danny Shelton served as a big stopgap on rushing plays. Christian Kirksey quietly recorded 9 tackles.
After a quiet start to the season, the Browns’ front seven ramped up the pressure on Tannehill. The defense only registered three quarterback hits and one sack, but rushed Tannehill on numerous occasions. The pass rush showed dramatic improvement, albeit against a Miami offensive line without center Mike Pouncey.
The Browns’ defense surely wasn’t perfect. The Dolphins did have touchdown drives of 3, 4, 5, and 6 plays. But Miami did have nice field position on those drives.
Here’s a fun stat: Seven of the nine Dolphins’ drives that started inside or at 25-yard line ended in three-and-outs.
The Browns defense still lacks the talent to succeed on a consistent basis in the NFL. But it’s showing improvement.