Zane Gonzalez “Charlie Brown’ed” a potential game-tying field goal that would have sent the Cleveland Browns into overtime for the second straight week. Instead, they lost, which everyone reading this already knows is what the Browns franchise has seemed to do best for what seems like all of eternity.
The Browns inventing unique ways to lose football games is an art form, unlikely to be duplicated in our time. For that, they are the Mona Lisa of failure.
It’s wildly confusing, then, how many seemed shocked as Drew Brees took a knee on Cleveland’s hopes of winning its first game since December 2016.
How did we get here? How could they lose after playing so well, again?
In Gonzalez’s defense, it was a 52-yard attempt, and it was a high-pressure situation. But let’s not forget about his two missed extra points that preceded it. But, but also, he earlier missed what should have been a simple 44-yard field goal with 14:21 left in regulation.
In a dome.
Gonzalez, a 23-year-old in his 17th NFL Game, set records at Arizona State and was a unanimous All-American kicker while in Tempe. And up until now, he had served the Browns well. He had missed only one extra point—albeit in limited attempts, because how often have the Browns actually scored touchdowns—and was 2-of-3 from 50-plus yards.
After winning the kicking competition against Ohio-native Ross Martin in training camp, it seemed the Browns had found their kicker for the foreseeable future. Nothing is a sure-thing, though, especially when dealing with young players playing in new situations.
Gonzalez uncharacteristically shanked three kicks that no NFL kicker should ever miss, especially given the ideal conditions the Superdome affords. Then his head coach trotted him out to kick a 52-yard field goal with eight seconds left and the entire world expecting him to fail.
Two extra points, and two missed field goals, and then a three-point loss. The margin for error when it comes to winning in the NFL is so brutally narrow. You feel for Gonzalez a bit, it’s hard not to after realizing as bad as you feel for a few moments on Sunday, he’ll probably feel even worse for significantly longer.
You also probably would have liked coach Hue Jackson to run another offensive play to get closer for his young kicker, but there’s no guarantee some other Brownsian tragedy doesn’t go down, and eight seconds leaves more than enough time for the Browns to craft their newest Picasso.
Look, it’s unacceptable Gonzalez was so bad on September 16, 2018. He should be upset, deserves ridiculed, and maybe the Browns will replace him. Whatever happens next, will happen. Gonzalez literally has one job, and he was horrifically awful at it in this game.
As good as it is to show him some empathy, he gets doesn’t deserve any sympathy. This is the business he’s in. This is the NFL, and there are consequences for failure for everyone involved—well, everyone except for Cleveland’s 1-32-1 head coach.
Whether Gonzalez stays or goes, it doesn’t really matter. He’s a young player, so how he rebounds from his worst performance will define the rest of his career, and maybe that impacts the Browns, or maybe it doesn’t. But the bigger picture is what’s important in times like these.
The sad but honest reality is the Browns just aren’t good enough to win, especially in close games, at least not yet, and it’s mainly because they don’t know how to. A 23-year-old kicker was the scapegoat in Week 2. But there are plenty of other issues, including youth and inexperience, that makes them fall short when games are on the line.
We can blame special teams coach Amos Jones or Joel Bitonio for not protecting against the Steelers’ overloaded scheme leading to the field-goal block that caused last week’s tie. We can blame offensive coordinator Todd Haley for calling a vanilla game plan and rarely challenging a Saints defense that gave up over 400 passing yards and four scores just a week ago. We can blame a head coach that week after week fails to use timeouts or manage a game clock effectively, and is guilty of confusing blunder after confusing blunder. We can blame Tyrod Taylor for not taking enough chances down the field.
Forget the blame game, though. Although the Browns were talented enough to win the game, they just don’t know how. It’s because they haven’t done it, most of them are young and inexperienced, and the pressure to win is heavily weighing on them. Talent wise, the “old Cleveland Browns” are long, long gone. We have seen it. Everyone knows it.
But being talented is only part of it.
They’re never going to become a consistent winning team until their young players are developed and cultivated the right way. Until their coaches open up their playbooks and believe in their players. Until they overcome these finger-pointing contest collapses in big moments and actually win the close games they put themselves in position to win.
Saying the right things in press conferences and adding moral victories to the trophy case aren’t going to change a thing. It’s time this group digs a little deeper and plays to win games instead of to not lose them, or it’s time this organization makes some changes. Whether that’s a coaching change, or whether it’s a quarterback change, the Browns have tough decisions looming.
General manager John Dorsey is a no-nonsense kind of guy, so it’s crazy to believe he’ll sit back and watch the team he built continue to fail in the same—although new and exciting—ways of past Browns teams. After all, these guys are “real football players,” right Mr. Dorsey?
It’s true the new GM nuked the Browns roster, and they have a new offensive coordinator, so the Browns offense is still learning how to play together. And we know, or it at least looks like they are more talented, so maybe nothing happens. Maybe the problems will fix themselves in time. But an organization that perpetuates failure yet preaches accountability eventually has to reflect inward and will figure out what changes are necessary. Or it won't, and the beat goes on.
While it’s not time to hit a reset button, or even a panic button, you can bet changes are coming if the Browns continue losing in the same pitiful ways.
Long live the “same old Browns,” the laughing stock of the NFL.
At least for another week.
Author’s note: Correction, Zane Gonzalez was 2-of-3 on 50-yard field goals prior to Week 2.