The party lasted into overtime, but Ryan Succop turned off the lights with a 47-yard field goal to earn the 9-6 win. Based on the reception Succop received after the victory, Tennessee youngsters dressed as the former Mr. Irrelevant might get extra candy this year. (I definitely did as Tim Couch back in 1999.)
The loss sends the Browns reeling to 0-7, entering the trip across the pond with a bad taste in their mouths.
If you didn’t RSVP for today’s field goal celebration, here’s what you missed:
1. Good gameplan: The Browns’ coaching staff had a smart first half gameplan on offense. For perhaps the first time this season, Hue Jackson and Co. formulated a well-rounded scheme to start off the game.
The pundits have talked about DeShone Kizer’s age and inexperience. But despite his inexperience, the Browns have not set him up for success, opting for primarily deep and intermediate passes to the edge instead of safe passes over the middle.
The trend reversed today, as Jackson and the coaching staff established the ground game early and built Kizer’s confidence with short, sure throws. Kizer responded by completing 9-of-10 passes to start off the game.
Kizer took advantage of soft Titans coverage to find Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell on 5 of his first 10 passes. The nine completions resulted in 67 yards, not a ton of yards, but a solid output, without any turnovers.
Jackson also involved the tight ends and fullback more frequently to compensate for a weak receiver company. Danny Vitale caught a pass and steamrolled a pair of Titans defenders in impressive fashion to gain 11 yards. Sure, Vitale is a fullback, but maybe the Browns should get the ball in the big guy’s hands more often.
The Browns even threw out a trick play in the first half. Duke Johnson took a direct snap and tossed it back to Kizer. The rookie quarterback tossed it back to Johnson, though the gain was wiped out by a penalty. New formations also helped to confuse the Titans.
Credit Jackson and the Browns for making Kizer’s job easier in the first half. The Browns did a much better job of placing the ball into Crowell and Johnson’s hands early on to mitigate Kizer’s load in the first half. Kizer did well in response, but threw a pass high in looking for Rashard Higgins at the end of the first half.
2. Penalties galore: Early mistakes hurt the Browns time and again in the first half. The Browns drew 8 penalties to the Titans’ one in the first stanza.
The Browns shot themselves in the foot with silly mistakes. In the first 30 minutes, the Browns committed three offsides penalties. Even Myles Garrett jumped early for the Browns, and did so again later in the game.
Mistakes on the offensive side of the ball hurt the Browns again, setting the offense back in bad situations. A holding call and illegal hands to the face penalty by the Browns’ blockers brought back promising plays and made things tougher for the offense.
The Browns need to limit mistakes on both sides of the ball. The mistakes cost the Browns 51 yards in the first half alone, which did not harm the team irreparably, but you can’t make the burden heavier on your rookie quarterback.
3. Kessler Time: Following a pair of interceptions, Kizer received the boot early in the third quarter. Will we ever learn?
For the second time in three weeks, Jackson lost confidence in his young signalcaller. But this time, Jackson opted to call upon Kessler rather than Kevin Hogan. Kessler entered into a bad situation, too, at his own 1-yard line.
Just like Hogan, Kessler made an immediate impact on offense. Kessler orchestrated a lengthy drive, ending with a Browns field goal. The score tied the contest at 6.
Kessler performed better than Kizer, completing several intermediate throws, including a nice toss over the shoulder to David Njoku. Kessler read the defense well and found his receivers on smart throws, avoiding overthrows and unnecessary passes.
Yet, Kessler eventually made a mistake, overthrowing Njoku on 3rd and long. The error did not hurt the Browns, as the Titans went three and out thanks to the fierce Browns’ defense. As a whole, Kessler did alright, leading a pair of field goal drives, but did not look too much better than Kizer.
Despite Kessler’s early success, Jackson’s handling of Kizer is criminal. Kizer enjoyed a solid first half in leading the Browns, though the team only scored 3 points. Kizer did force a pair of throws, one late in the first half and another early in the second half. Kizer finished 12-of-20 passing for 114 yards.
Kizer did not have an amazing game, but he certainly didn’t lose the game. Kizer’s receivers did not do him any favors, dropping a pair of throws from the youngster.
Benching Kizer repeatedly does not do anything for Kizer’s confidence. Jackson’s quick hook sends a message – avoid mistakes or I’ll yank you. As a result, Kizer will be hesitant to throw the ball deep. When in doubt, Kizer will checkdown instead of risking a deep pass and a benching. It’s human nature.
As a result, we cannot receive an accurate indication of Kizer’s true skill and talent. The object of the game is to win. But have the Browns won with Kessler and Hogan playing quarterback? No. Stick with Kizer and see his true talent to determine if you might need to take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick.
4. Goal line stand: The Browns’ defense made a statement with a goal line stand from the 1-yard line early in the third quarter. The defense bailed out Kizer following a big pick.
The Titans drove down into the Browns’ red zone, all the way down to the one-yard line. But the Browns stood firm, turning back three runs and a pass.
Granted, Mariota should have completed his pass to Delanie Walker in the end zone. The young quarterback had his tight end open, but did not set his feet, rushing the throw.
Even still, the Browns deserve plenty of credit for holding firm on defense. Danny Shelton and Emmanuel Ogbah, both of whom have played well this season, stood strong and pushed back the Titans’ offensive linemen. Playing with your backs against the wall is never easy, but these two men, and the rest of the front seven, performed admirably in plugging the holes and turning back the Titans.
The goal line stand turned momentum around and prevented the Titans from increasing their lead to two scores. Instead, the Cleveland defense gave the offense a chance to work. Cody Kessler promptly led the team on a scoring drive to tie the game.
5. Killer Kirksey: The Browns’ linebacker wreaked havoc on the Titans, leading the Browns’ defense and making some great plays. The 4-year veteran has become the Browns’ top playmaker on defense.
Christian Kirksey notched 11 tackles in the first half alone, notching a tackle for loss for five yards, too. The Iowa product played inspired football, flying to the ball for the Browns.
Kirksey showed his skills in both the ground game and against the pass. Kirksey stuffed holes and broke blocks to limit the Titans to 2.5 yards per carry. Thanks in part to Kirksey, the Browns limited their opponent to less than 100 rushing yards for the fifth time this season.
The Titans’ passing attack also fell victim to Kirksey’s play. The veteran deflected a pass in the end zone early in the fourth quarter on third down. Kirksey’s ability to cover the tight end today surprisingly limited Walker and kept the Titans out of the end zone.
Kirksey also deserves praise for his ability to get to the edge. The linebacker took smart angles to cut off the edge, including on dangerous screen passes the Browns have been burned by this season.
The Browns have a need for a free safety and arguably at cornerback, but Kirksey should start for the Browns for a while.
6. End of The Streak: Joe Thomas’ legendary and record-setting streak came to an end on Sunday. As they say, all good things must come to an end, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing.
Late in the third quarter, with the Browns driving, an injury deflated all of the energy in FirstEnergy Stadium. Thomas fell to the ground clutching his arm, in obvious pain.
The strange sight of Thomas on the turf had many Browns fans understandably nervous. Despite the prayers and pleas by all, Thomas did not return to the game, the victim of a triceps injury.
Let’s take a moment to recognize Joe Thomas for being an ironman, the lone symbol of consistency amidst a constant whirlwind of change around him. Thomas has loyally served the Browns through thick and thin, rarely complaining and always playing through injury.
Thomas’ streak came to an end at 10,363 snaps, a record that will likely never be broken by another Brown. In today’s NFL, where injuries rear their ugly head often, Thomas stood as a model of consistency and toughness.
Fittingly, on the next play after Thomas’ injury, the Browns lost five yards.
Spencer Drango replaced Thomas at left tackle and did fairly well, until the overtime, but it wasn’t the same. The offense just doesn’t seem right without Thomas protecting the left side.
7. Another loss: The Browns suffered another loss today, this one more disappointing than others this season. The Browns’ defense performed exceptionally well, but the offense could not follow suit.
For the fourth time this season, the Browns lost by a field goal. A loss is a loss. You can’t place moral victories in the win column, but the Browns showed plenty of improvement today.
Consider the fact that the Browns played without two of their top defensive backs in Jabrill Peppers and Jason McCourty. The Browns held the Titans to 21-of-34 passing for 203 yards and 0 touchdowns. Granted, Marcus Mariota is still returning to form from a hamstring injury, but Mariota dissected the Colts for 303 yards and a touchdown last week.
Also, look at the ground game. The Browns rushed the ball 26 times. The plays only resulted in 66 yards, in part because of Thomas’ absence.
The promising aspect is the coaching staff’s adjustments, with an increased commitment to the ground game and a better scheme to stop the pass. The Browns also held the Titans to 80 yards on 32 carries, showing an improvement in stopping the run.
Yes, it’s another loss. Yes, it sucks. But despite the cries of some demagogues in the media, it’s not time to blow everything up again. The Browns look like an actual football team, and should continue to show improvement next week in London.