Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Miscommunication, missteps & mistakes

The Cleveland Browns gave fans their annual lump of coal in losing to the Baltimore Ravens on Christmas Eve.

The loss was the Browns 11th this year, giving the team four consecutive 11-loss seasons for the first time in franchise history. We’re sure their are fans who will blame the previous 11 loss seasons on current coach Pat Shurmur.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

For the third week in a row, the Browns were competitive against a better team but came up short. Unlike last week, when the Browns came from ahead to lose against Arizona, this week the Browns fell behind 20-0 before putting a scare into the first-place Ravens.

“We knew this would be quite a challenge for us,” quarterback Seneca Wallace said in published reports. “We’re playing the Ravens at home, and they’re playing for everything. I should have played better, and I should have made better decisions.”

Two plays stand out in particular, starting with one involving Wallace’s decision making.

The Browns lost a chance at the end of the first half to put some points on the board when Wallace, a nine-year veteran who fancies himself a starting quarterback, thought it was a good idea to run the ball from the five-yard line with the Browns holding no timeouts and just 11 seconds remaining in the half.

“I knew we had no timeouts left,” Wallace said of the run call. “It was very loud in that end. It was bad communication on my behalf. I heard Pat (Shurmur) yelling, ‘Clock, clock, clock,’ but I wasn’t sure everyone was on the same page, and that’s my job. It’s not the head coach’s fault. I called 66T, a running play, and it didn’t work. It was a tough situation, but I should have handled it better.”

On the preceding play, Evan Moore caught a short pass but could not get out of bounds, which kept the clock running. The Browns ended up losing 23 seconds before the hand off to Hillis.

That sequence of plays shows why Wallace is still a back-up and why Moore doesn’t get on the field more during the game. The players have to do a better job understanding the game situation.

“We called two plays — one to get us the first down and one to either throw it into the end zone or to the sideline and get out of bounds; that was the design,” Shurmur said. “From there, we wanted to make sure we got the clock stopped on the second down play. Evan caught the ball on the sideline, did not get out of bounds, so the clock was still running. Then, what we wanted to do was get the clock stopped. Get the clock stopped and then, be able to regroup in the huddle, maybe have one play at the end zone. If we don’t, kick the field goal. That’s what we wanted to get done.”

Thanks to a Josh Cribbs 84-yard punt return for a touchdown – about time Shurmur called that particular play, don’t you think? – and a Wallace to Moore touchdown pass, the Browns climbed back into the game and inexplicably trailed just 20-14 with 8:22 left in the game.

The defense forced a three-and-0ut and the Browns moved to their own 45 before facing fourth-and-five. Shurmur went for it (right decision) but Wallace’s pass to Peyton Hillis in the flat was stopped for no gain (bad play call).

The Browns had one last chance to get the ball back as they forced the Ravens into a fourth-and-2 at the Cleveland 37-yard-line. Coming out of a timeout, the Ravens went to a hard count, hoping to force someone on the Browns to jump off sides.

Need we say that defensive tackle Phil Taylor took the bait?

“It was the first hard count and we stayed onside,” Taylor said. “The second time, I just jumped. Of course you feel bad, but you just got to move on.”

It happens, but still …

“In the timeout, we talked about the potential of that happening,” Shurmur said. “I’ve seen it, and we had a nice huddle to discuss that might happen. And then, you’re out there playing and you can’t do that.”

“I told (Phil) that if you play in this league a long time, things like that are going to happen,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “You’ve just got to learn from it. We’ve never been in that situation all year. We’ll talk about it. It’s one of those things where you wish you could get it back. He’s young and he had a lot of learning experiences this year. He’s done a tremendous job.”

As usual, there were a few bright spots. Hillis ran for 112 yards, showing how a healthy running game can help the offense. Cribbs found the end zone on his punt return and, after allowing Ray Rice to run for 204 yards in the first meeting of the season, the Browns held him to 87 yards and no touchdowns.

And the Browns could have quit after falling behind 20-0 on the road against a team that is battling for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But they hung in there and played themselves back into a position where they could have won the game.

But it wasn’t enough to avoid another loss in another lost season. It just never is.

And it wasn’t enough to quiet the bleating of the anti-Shurmur crowd, who want to find fault with everything the team does.

Losing to the Ravens is nothing new for the Browns – they’ve done it twice a year for four consecutive years now. And the past two years, the Browns lost by an average of 17 points to the Ravens – not even the revisionists can spin that.

The Browns flat out stink when they play within the division and until they get that problem fixed, nothing is going to change.

For now, though, the Browns gave everyone a reason to watch until the end yesterday and didn’t do anything to hurt their draft position.

At this point in the season, that’s probably the best Christmas present fans could ask for from the team.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

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