It's difficult to find "the good" in a loss. Especially, after a game you had to win. But if there's one positive to take out of the Browns 24-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Cleveland on Sunday, it's that they won't have long to dwell on it. This week the Browns travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens on Thursday Night Football. Wait, where's the positive? I suppose it's fitting that, as this season rolls along, it's becoming more and more difficult to stay upbeat and chalk up certain facets of each game to rookies just making rookie mistakes. Unfortunately, it's undeniably more than that. And that is the real cause for concern.
The Buffalo Bills came into town with the league's most dangerous rusher, C.J. Spiller, averaging 10.1 yards per carry. For the first quarter of the game, Spiller came as advertised. After helping to set up the Bills first touchdown, a 9-yard strike from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to rookie wide receiver T.J. Graham, Spiller gashed the Browns defense on a simple screen play from Fitzpatrick. The Clemson product went 32 yards and sprinted untouched to the end zone to give his team a commanding 14-0 lead. Early in the second quarter, however, Spiller suffered a shoulder injury after he broke off a long run and was taken down hard by Browns safety Usama Young. He did not return.
The injury to Spiller seemed to take the wind out of the Bills' sails for awhile and allowed the Browns to creep back into the game. Brandon Weeden finally engineered an impressive scoring drive late in the second quarter, capped off by a six yard touchdown run from Trent Richardson with 2:12 to go in the half. Momentum was teetering over to the Browns side, but they failed to seize it. Another possession late in the half was squandered by the offense after Greg Little dropped a wide open pass on 3rd down that would‘ve surely moved the sticks. Instead, with just over 30 seconds left to go in the half, the Browns were forced to punt the ball back to the Bills. Knowing they were going to get the ball back to start the second half, the Bills wisely chose to take a knee and head to the locker room.
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In the third quarter, the Browns got things rolling again and got back in the end zone after Weeden, who finished the day 27 of 43 for 237 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, threw a beautiful pass to a wide open Travis Benjamin to bring the score back within three points. From that point on, however, it seemed like no matter what the Browns did, they couldn't do the little things to sustain drives and get ahead in the game. They were frustratingly inconsistent when it seemed they could‘ve been, once again, just a few plays away from taking over the game. Instead they fell to 0-3 and offer little in the way of hope that this season will turn around soon.
This was a game, according to Pat Shurmur (and anyone else you asked), the Browns had to win. And they let it slip away. Instead, the Bills, who were trying to get their first road win since Week 1 of last season, came out like they had to win. The Browns came out like they were merely hoping to win. It never seemed like they matched the intensity or the will to win that the Bills had. After the Spiller injury, the Browns had the perfect chance to seize momentum and take over this game but, true to form, they merely did enough to keep it competitive and then lost in the end.
Unfortunately, there is plenty of blame to go around for why they collectively didn't get it done. Blame Brandon Weeden for throwing two terrible interceptions in the fourth quarter as he tried desperately to bring the team back. Blame Greg Little and Travis Benjamin for dropping passes on crucial downs which killed, rather than sustained, drives. Blame D'Qwell Jackson for a ridiculous late hit penalty after the whistle. Blame Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress for the baffling decision to limit Trent Richardson to 12 carries when the game was still very much in reach. Blame special teams Coach Chris Tabor and the punt coverage team for allowing Bills returner Leodis McKelvin to set up Buffalo's first two scoring drives with big returns. Blame bills head coach Chan Gailey for calling better plays than we did. Blame the replacement officials and the rain and the wind too.
As you can see, joking aside, there is plenty to go around. And as the season goes on, with the Browns once again playing their way out of contention early, it's becoming clear that no one is above reproach. As for what will ultimately result in this latest train wreck of hopes and dreams that‘s becoming the 2012 campaign, only Jimmy Haslam III can know. Though he still has yet to take it all in and figure out the plan going forward, which most likely won't be divulged until after the season, I'd imagine he's getting some ideas after only a few weeks on the job.
The good thing for the coaches and players is they can't afford to think that far down the road. Now, they have to pull themselves together on a short week and go on the road to Baltimore to face one of the best teams in the AFC. Still, there are no excuses. Baltimore has an even shorter turnaround after having taken on the New England Patriots on Sunday Night. The difference is the Ravens have everything the Browns wish they had right now. They have a solid, punishing defense led by future, can‘t-miss Hall-of-Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. They have an established, strong-armed quarterback in Joe Flacco to throw to emerging down field passing targets like second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta. They have a coach who has the fire and intensity in John Harbaugh that fans love and, above all else, they have organizational stability, led by long time general manager and ex-Brown Ozzie Newsome.
The Browns have potential and not much else. At some point, that potential must be fulfilled. While I do not advocate getting there by blowing the organization up for the umpteenth time, I understand the fan base is tired of hearing about ‘potential‘. They want results. Beginning the season 0-3 for the fourth time in five years is not what anyone had in mind. It's the same old thing, over and over. New coaches, new players, but the same result. After awhile, it all just starts to sound like excuses. The youth, the inexperience, the missteps and the close losses. Sooner or later, it has to start coming together. Maybe it's unfair to expect a lot out of an offense led by rookies at the most important positions in the first month of their careers. It's also unfair to keep asking fans to be patient while this plan takes years to come to fruition. It's a delicate balance.
Last week, I was encouraged by the potential that I saw come to light in Cincinnati, especially after the dismal season opener against Philadelphia. This week, it's safe to say, the Browns did what they typically do and knocked me back down a peg. Perhaps that's the message, in the end. This team is not as bad as they've shown at times and they're also not as good as they've shown, at times. Although, when the team hasn‘t won a game, it's pretty hard to find "the good" at all. Sooner or later, "the good" has to become better. It most definitely needs to outweigh the bad. Unfortunately, for our beloved Browns, with upcoming games at Baltimore and then the New York Giants, I wouldn't be surprised if "the good" just hitched a ride to Buffalo.