The third-quarter field goal attempt sailed wide right. The Cleveland Browns found themselves trailing the host Baltimore Ravens by six points with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
Five plays later, Ravens defensive back Cary Williams was jogging alone toward the Browns’ end zone. Ravens 23, Browns 10 with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Down 13 points with a quarter to go? That’s an insurmountable spread for this Browns team.
Yet with 1:05 left in the game, the Browns trailed by seven points and had the ball at their own 10-yard line. Six plays later the Browns were 33 yards away from tying the game.
It’s OK. Like the opener against the Philadelphia Eagles or the week after against the Cincinnati Bengals, it was a valiant effort, but too many key mistakes doom a young team like the Browns. It’s something this team cannot make nor afford.
The Browns did both Thursday night and now find themselves 0-4.
Let’s start with Weeden. That pick-six turned out to be a rookie mistake and the deciding factor, but the loss is does not lie at the feet of the rookie quarterback.
Weeden finished 25-for-52 passing for 320 yards. He orchestrated an 11-play, 94-yard drive in the second quarter. Finally, on the game’s final drive, he moved the Browns 57 yards with no time outs to put the team in position to take a shot at the end zone to tie the game.
But 52 attempts? When the Browns trailed 16-10 after the missed field goal, the plays that preceded the pick six were two consecutive passes followed by a Trent Richardson run for five yards and an end around to Travis Benjamin for no gain.
(Side note, can we rip the Benjamin end around play call from the playbook? It’s not working anymore.)
Anyway, Weeden is developing. He’s showing improvement, but right now his best friend needs to be the running game. The Browns have four running backs on the roster. Heck, even split them out wide, as most can catch better than a majority of the Browns’ wide receivers. Yet Richardson was the only running back to carry the ball. He only had 14 attempts.
After the pick six, everything goes out the window. The Browns needed to throw and throw often, but in the first three quarters with the game close and rain falling down, the ball needed to be handed off to Richardson, Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya. Take the pressure off Weeden. Take the pressure off the Browns wide receivers. Let the offensive line do what they enjoy most: run block.
It seemed when the Browns found themselves still down six points after that missed field goal, Cleveland played too fast. The running game enables you to slow things down — which is a good thing for a young quarterback — lean on that offensive line and uber-talented running back. Finally, you can eat some clock.
The Browns are the youngest team in the NFL. When you start to play fast you start to make mistakes. Weeden’s mistake cost the Browns’ a victory.
Expect the Browns to continue to compete week in and week out. If the Browns want to start winning these games, they better remember to run the football.