It seems like since 1999 that the Cleveland Browns have found every possible way to lose a football game. And yet, just when you think they’ve exhausted all their options for blowing games, they go and do something new. Sunday’s loss to the Bengals was another one of those times.
Just looking at the final score of 41-20 you’d assume that the game was a blow-out pretty plain and simple. You’d never guess thought that the Browns defense fairly well dominated the game.
And that’s just what they did in reality. Ray Horton’s defense only allowed ten Bengal first downs, 1-14 on third downs, 3.8 yards per play—improving on their league-leading 4.4 YPP, only 224 total yards, held one of the best receivers in the league to only two catches for seven yards, had two interceptions, and one defensive score. In today’s NFL, that’s a dominating performance and it’s tough to lose when you put up that stiff of a defense. But just like “life” at Jurassic Park, the Browns “found a way.”
I’ve been saying all season as far back as the Brian Hoyer starts that the Browns quarterbacks—all of them—aren’t good enough to win football games without great defense and special teams. Look at each of the Browns four wins and you’ll see just that. We’ve already covered how the defense held up their end of the bargain this week. However, the offense and the special teams were essentially a net negative.
All you really need to know about how bad those units played is that while on the field they GAVE UP more points than they produced. That wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that it’s the job of the offense to, you know, score points. And the job of the special teams is simply just don’t suck.
The offense had a chance early to put the game out of reach with possessions inside the ten twice (once set up by the defense) but failed to come away with more than field goals. When Joe Haden ran his second interception into the end zone the score very well should have been 21-0 and the Cincinnati fans would have been silent and hopeless along with the Bengal players.
But at only 13-0 there was still a glimmer of hope. And that glimmer turned into a gleam pretty quickly when Jason Campbell was intercepted by our old pal James Harrison who ran the ball in for a score that would come back due to a penalty. The damage was done though and the comeback and route were already well in motion. The Bengals, already in capable scoring range, got on the board to start the second quarter with a touchdown.
The next Browns drive ended with the first of two blocked punts which gave Andy Dalton the ball at the Cleveland 38—slightly more difficult scoring range than the previous gift-wrapping but still a huge boon to even to most pedestrian of NFL offenses. The term “pedestrian” applies very well in this case referring to the Bengals as they needed a trick play to victimize the Browns rookie OLB in pass coverage to get themselves close enough to score the go-ahead touchdown. Then the Browns had another punt blocked, this time returned for a touchdown. Then my boy Chris Ogbonnaya got rocked and fumbled the ball which also got returned for a score. Then the Browns didn’t run out the clock with 58 seconds and 76 yards to go. Then the special teams got the punt off but allowed a long return to set up a Bengal field goal. Then it was 31-13 Cincy at the half and the playoffs felt like a million miles away from Cleveland.
I could go on recapping the game but you all know how it went down and what needs to happen with this team going forward.
I’ll just say real quick that I don’t think special team’s coordinator Chris Tabor should be fired. His unit may have been a huge reason why the team lost this week but they were also the instruments of at least half of the Browns’ wins this season as well. Having two punts blocked in the same game is inexcusable, but I don’t think it’s enough to fire the guy. Not yet at least.
No, the crazy thing is that if the Browns had a competent offense they could have overcome those special teams blunders. The biggest problem for the Cleveland football franchise is what it’s been for 15 years…no quarterback.
Just about everyone freaked out two weeks ago what Campbell had a nice little 3 TD game and proclaimed our QB issues solved. There’s a reason why no one has wanted Campbell as a starting QB for three years now and those reasons were on full display on Sunday. He doesn’t make consistently good decisions all the time and he doesn’t have enough physical ability to make up the difference. Against a good defenses like the Bengals he is going to be made to look like the backup he truly is. There’s a saying that goes as follows: “If you ask a backup to win you a game, he’ll win you a game. If you ask him to win you two games, he’ll win you two games. If you ask him to win you three games, he’ll win you two games.” Campbell gave the Browns two pretty good, winnable performances in his first two starts, but asking or expecting him to do it a third time is just too much to ask.
The real question as always is trying to decide where we go from here? Despite a record of 4-6 the Browns are still in the playoff hunt sitting only a game out of the Wild Card…along with eight other teams. The crazy thing is that it’s not inconceivable for the Browns to finish out their remaining games 5-1 to finish at 8-8 which would likely put them right there (especially since one of those wins would be over the currently 5-5 Jets). I’m not delusional or anything and I certainly am not counting on it to happen, but there is still a chance which is exciting because it gives meaning and purpose to the rest of the season. Because of that you have to stick with Campbell. Also cause there aren’t really any other options.
To get there though we obviously can’t have another suckfest like we had this past Sunday. If the defense plays like the way that they did then all the offense and special teams have to do is just getting passing grades. They just need to not lose the game. And given the competition we’re facing over the final six games I actually think that would get it done.
Do I have faith in Campbell to get the job done? Absolutely not. But I wouldn’t feel confident if I was any one of those other eight teams in contention either…so that’s where I’m hinging my hope. We just have to be not as bad as those other teams. And you know what? That, I do have a little faith in.
 Now feels like a good time to note that Haden’s first interception gave the Browns the ball at the Cincy 14 and the offense couldn’t put it in from there. So I guess I’m either overstating the referenced sentence or you can’t even call the Browns offense “pedestrian”…I’m thinking the latter.