Over the first four games of the season, one of the main contributors to the Cleveland Browns 0-4 record was starting games slow. That wasn't a problem on Sunday as the Browns went on the road to East Rutherford, New Jersey to take on the New York Giants. After winning the coin toss and electing to receive the ball, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled on his first carry and the Browns recovered. Moments later, Trent Richardson proved his pre-game assertion that the Giants were vulnerable against the run as he darted unchallenged into the end zone to give the Browns an early lead.
Starting slow was definitely not the problem on this Sunday. Yet, in the end, the result was the same. The Browns have proven they aren't built to come from behind and now they have proven they can't do the little things to sustain a lead. They ultimately fell to the Giants, 41-27 on Sunday.
Just when the game appeared to be going the Browns' way, it seemed to turn on a dime late in the second quarter when they were still up 17-10 and had the ball deep in Giants territory, facing a 3rd and 1. For perhaps reasons only known to him, head coach Pat Shurmur took Trent Richardson off the field and called for a pass play. Brandon Weeden rolled out to the right and thought he had Josh Gordon open past the first-down marker but instead threw an errant pass over Gordon's head and into the arms of New York safety Stevie Brown.
Brown's 46-yard return and a subsequent pass from Eli Manning to rookie receiver Rueben Randle for 36 yards set up the Giants deep in Browns territory. Atoning for his early fumble, Bradshaw rumbled into the end zone to tie the game at 17. Moments later, Browns kick returner Josh Cribbs fumbled the ball and the Giants recovered. The proverbial snowball was rolling full steam. Manning made quick work of the next possession, finding star receiver Victor Cruz in the end zone for one of his three touchdown receptions on the afternoon.
Just when things seemed like they couldn't get worse, the Browns turned the ball over on downs and a huge pass interference penalty on cornerback Buster Skrine gave the Giants an opportunity to kick a field goal before the half. A game that started with a 14 point lead for the Browns ended as a 10 point deficit, 27-17, after two quarters.
Things never really got back on track for the Browns in the second half as they were forced to play catch up, a role they are far more familiar with early in this 2012 season. Within that realm of familiarity existed the same old problems for the Browns. They gave up 10 penalties totaling 91 yards for the game. Weeden threw a second costly interception, this time in the end zone, after making the mistake of attempting to throw the ball twice on the same play. Instead of coming away with at least a field goal on that drive, the Browns turned the ball back over to the Giants who seemed capable of scoring at will on the banged up Browns defense.
Ahmad Bradshaw had the game of his career, rushing for 200 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Rookie running back David Wilson also rushed for a touchdown late in the game to give the Giants a three-touchdown lead, 41-20. Manning, in the meantime, was the latest quarterback to take advantage of the Browns porous secondary without Joe Haden, who will finally return this Sunday after serving his four-game suspension. In addition to the Manning-to-Cruz hat trick, Eli found receivers Randle and Domenik Hixon wide open all day long. The Giants QB finished the day completing 25 of 37 pass attempts for 259 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His counterpart, Brandon Weeden, played well statistically (22 of 35 for 291 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) but, once again, couldn't do enough to give his team the much-needed victory.
Next Sunday, the Browns (0-5) come back home to face the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) for the second time this season. It also happens to be Weeden's 29th birthday. Of all the gifts he could receive, none would be as precious or valuable as his first career win. He, along with Browns fans everywhere, will have to hope the Bengals are in the giving mood.