It's hard being a Browns fan. Jimmy Haslam III is finding that out. The Browns fumbled a golden opportunity to win two games in a row on Sunday and head coach Pat Shurmur may have fumbled his opportunity to give his new boss any reason to keep him around another season, as the Browns fell to the Colts 17-13 in Indianapolis. The Browns have now tied a franchise record by losing 11 straight road games. Not exactly the kind of feather you want in your cap, if you‘re Pat Shurmur, when you sit down with the new owner and the new CEO, Joe Banner, at the end of the season to discuss your future.
Haslam, sitting for the first time in the visiting owner's box since the purchase of the team was made official last Tuesday, was visibly frustrated toward the end of the game when his new investment failed to put things together to secure a win. I may not know what it feels like to have billions of dollars or to sit in an owner's box to watch an NFL game, but I can definitely identify with what Haslam had to have been feeling throughout the game. Browns fans can rejoice in the fact that we finally have an owner who cares deeply about the product on the field. What's more is the fact that he, unlike us, is in the position to do something to fix it. It will be up to him to prioritize what needs fixing the most.
What I Liked...
It wasn't all bad, of course, as the Browns found themselves in a position to pull out a win at the end, like they have done in seemingly every game this season. Brandon Weeden may have had his best game yet throwing for 264 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He definitely proved that he belonged on the same field as his counterpart, Colts QB Andrew Luck, who was the #1 overall pick in last April's draft. He made smart decisions with the football by throwing it away at times when the pressure got too close and, most importantly, putting the ball where only his receivers could catch it.
Greg Little, who has been heavily scrutinized this season for his drops and lack of concentration, hauled in the first of Weeden's touchdown passes when he went up in the back of the end zone, bobbled the ball and was able to maintain focus enough to track it and catch it while getting his knee down in bounds.
Josh Gordon caught the other touchdown, a beautiful back shoulder throw that would make Aaron Rodgers smile. The best part about the throw was that it wasn't a lob in the back corner of the end zone. It was a prefect 33 yard strike to the pylon where only Gordon, who was covered by a Colts' defender, could catch it. Gordon also made a beautiful adjustment on the play by opening his hips and turning inside out to where Weeden placed the ball.
I also liked how Weeden spread the ball around and showed his touch on passes out of the backfield to Chris Ogbonnaya and Trent Richardson. Weeden is showing growth by going through his progressions and not locking onto his primary read. Josh Cooper, Ben Watson, Travis Benjamin and Jordan Cameron were all involved in the passing game and that helps to keep defenses guessing. Weeden is definitely proving that, while the Browns may need help in many areas, one position they likely won't have to worry about in next April's draft is at quarterback. When is the last time Browns fans could say that?
What I Didn't Like...
When you lose a football game, the negatives will outweigh the positives. And the questions surrounding a loss in football usually start with the head coach. My biggest problem with Pat Shurmur is that he seems to have a frustrating knack for trying to out-think everyone in the building and more often than not, it seems to come back to bite him.
The sequence everyone will be talking about this week was late in the game when the Browns had the ball in Colts' territory on 3rd and 1, down by four. Instead of trying to simply get the first down and inch closer to the end zone, Brandon Weeden dropped back and threw another impeccable ball to Gordon who had a step on the defender. It undoubtedly should have been a touchdown. It was right in Gordon's hands and he dropped it. The broadcast crew noted how the sun coming through the hole in the roof at Lucas Oil Stadium may have messed with Gordon's ability to catch but Gordon didn't make excuses after the game: "In a big-time moment like that, you definitely can blame the loss on me."
Admirable Josh, but I still don't get the play call. Not on third and one. I understand that the running game at this point had been rendered ineffective, even though it was going against the same team that gave up 161 yards and three touchdowns to Jets' RB Shonn Greene just a week ago. Trent Richardson was basically benched in the second quarter because he couldn't get anything going and then Montario Hardesty came in and only got seven carries in the second half. The Browns were only down by one point and Shurmur completely abandoned the run once again. Baffling doesn't quite describe it. So then you add insult to injury by refusing to throw on a play where you're in four-down territory? Even if Hardesty had tried to run and gotten stuffed on third down, you still have a chance to go for it on 4th down. Instead, the pass falls incomplete and now you have to go for it on fourth down. Right? Not if you're Pat Shurmur.
The Browns looked like they were initially going to go for it on fourth down until Weeden called a time out because the play clock was getting dangerously low. Cut to commercial break and come back and the Browns are in punt formation. Apparently, the timeout allowed Shumur to "out-think" everyone in the building again and he decided to punt. The look on Jimmy Haslam's face in the owner's box underscored just about what everyone else wearing Orange and Brown across the nation was thinking or saying or screaming at that moment. Facepalm.
That decision alone didn't decide the outcome, fortunately for Shurmur, as the Browns got the ball back with plenty of time to put together another scoring drive, which also fell short. But the decisions to throw that pass on third and one and then wimp out on fourth down and punt it away are the type of aggravating, head-scratching calls Shurmur has been responsible for all season. It doesn't inspire confidence in him as a leader and a guy who has what it takes to sustain long-term success in the National Football League. The fans can see it. I'd imagine the players can see it. And unfortunately for Shurmur, we now have an owner who can see it as well.
Of course, not everything that happens in a game is the fault of the head coach but the Browns have a hard enough time trying to get out of their own way and overcome penalties, turnovers, and missed point-after attempts, that they shouldn't have to worry about overcoming their Head Coach too.
Overall, it was a game that the Browns should have definitely won. And as you start to glance down the schedule, there aren't too many of those left in this pivotal season for the franchise. It's still very much unknown what will happen after Week 17 when the evaluations on Shurmur and his coaching staff ensue. All they can think about is trying to win the next game. The Browns have two home games and then the Bye week before they head back out on the road to try to avoid a franchise-worst 12-game road losing streak.
At this point, I highly doubt a move would be made to replace Shurmur if he doesn't win the next two and the Browns enter the Bye at 1-8. But if these kind of in-game decisions keep failing Pat Shurmur and the Browns as a whole, I'd say all bets are off if I were Jimmy Haslam.