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In Cleveland, hope dies last

Archive for the category “disappointment”

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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Sleeping with the enemy

With the Cleveland Browns taking on a Baltimore Ravens team that is probably going to finish 13-3 with the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the AFC, the Browns need to play a perfect game to have a chance at winning on Sunday.

Now, while being perfect is probably unrealistic, you have to at least try.

Unfortunately the Browns were their own worst enemy on Sunday, falling to the Ravens for the seventh consecutive game.

This was a team loss in every way possible.

From the first play of the game – when Greg Little dropped another pass that hit him square in the hands, the receivers had a day to forget as Little had three catches for 18 yards, Jordon Norwood had three catches (and one weak penalty) and Mohamed Massaquoi had a lone catch.

Josh Cribbs earned the Brian Robiskie Memorial Blutarski Award this week for 0 receptions and 0 yards.

The tight ends did their part, with Ben Watson and Evan Moore both dropping passes that hit them square in the hands – Moore dropping a sure touchdown that would have cut the Ravens’ lead to 10-7.

Running game? How about 59 yards on 17 carries, with 24 of those yards coming on the opening drive.

Offensive line? Three sacks allowed and general lackluster play.

Quarterback Colt McCoy? For every play where his receivers betrayed him, he made just as many bad throws. A interception near the end of the first half set up a Baltimore field goal and McCoy finished with 192 yards on 17-of-35 passing.

McCoy may not throw many interceptions, but he knows how to make the ones he does throw count.

The defense got in on the act as well, giving up 204 yards rushing to Ray Rice and 290 on the ground overall.

After the Browns had to settle for a field goal because Moore dropped a sure touchdown in the third quarter, the defense gave up a 67-yard run to Rice on the first play, taking away what little momentum the Browns had.

The special teams clearly didn’t want to be left out of the fun as they gave up a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown to Lardarius Webb.

And so it goes for the Browns.

They haven’t beaten the Ravens since Phil Dawson’s field goal hit the support in Baltimore in 2007, they are most likely going to finish with 1 or fewer division wins for the fourth year in a row and, oh yeah, they’re heading to Pittsburgh on Thursday night to take on the Steelers.

And when we went to the team website after the game, we got the image you see at the top of this post. Is that what you really want to give someone for Christmas?

Bah Humbug, indeed.

(Photo by Cleveland Browns.com)

It was fun while it lasted

We hate to say the season is over for the Cleveland Indians when the team still has 35 games to play.

But after Wednesday’s loss to Seattle, the Tribe sits 6 games out of first place and it’s hard to see this team turning things around.

Because of injuries manager Manny Acta rolled out his AAAA lineup against the Mariners, with Ezequiel Carrera, Cord Phelps, Shelley Duncan and Jason Donald. No Shin Soo-Choo, Travis Hafner, Asdrubal Cabrera, etc.

Coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Tigers in Detroit, the Tribe started their longest – and most important – home stand of the season needing to get things rolling.

Instead the Mariners, who came into the series with a record of 53-72, manhandled the Indians in taking three out of four games. Seattle, the worst-hitting team in the American League, scorched the Tribe for 29 runs and 51 hits in the four games.

In less than a week the Tribe has gone from being 1.5 games behind Detroit to losing 6-of-7 and being outscored 51-27 along the way.

Things have finally caught up with the Indians as a seemingly never-ending string of injuries has robbed the lineup of any potency. If it’s not Hafner succumbing to a foot injury, it’s Michael Brantley’s wrist or Choo’s “trunk soreness.”

The strain of having to be perfect every night has finally taken its toll on the pitching staff, which has struggled the past week – from Ubaldo Jimenez, to Josh Tomlin and Chris Perez. Against Detroit and Seattle, the starting pitchers were 0-5 with an ERA of 9.35. They couldn’t get through the fifth inning in four of the seven games, wearing out the bullpen.

While it is certainly possible the Indians can get back in the pennant race, they have to hope Detroit fades in the final month, and they also have to worry about White Sox, who sit just a half-game back in third place.

The big fear is all the injuries and inexperienced players will lead the Indians to stumble through the last month of the season, spoiling what has been an entertaining and, ultimately, a successful season.

For the first time since 2007, it’s almost September and fans still care about the Tribe.

Young starting pitchers Justin Masterson, Tomlin and (for the most part) Carlos Carrasco grew up this season.

The bullpen (most nights) has been lights out, with Perez, Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Rafael Perez.

Youngsters Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis have had an extended taste of life in the big leagues and lived to tell about it.

Sadly, if the team stumbles down the stretch that is what some fans will remember about this season, undoing all the goodwill the team built up during its 30-15 start and battle for a division title through most of the season.

Even if a playoff spot is no longer a realistic option, the Tribe needs to finish relatively strong so that they can walk away from this season knowing they have started building a foundation toward contention for the next few years.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

Browns go out with a whimper

The Browns ended the 2010 season on Sunday in much the same way they have ended several seasons in the past decade – getting abused at the hands of the opponent.

It really isn’t a surprise the Browns lost to Pittsburgh on Sunday – the Steelers are better and healthier – but more the way they lost in the 41-9 debacle.

A Browns team that has been competitive all year long seemed to have the fight go out in them early, as Colt McCoy was intercepted on a tipped pass on the first possession and, before you knew it, the Steelers were up 14-0.

Maybe the players were following the lead of the coaching staff. After falling behind 14-0, McCoy drove the Browns 85 yards to the Pittsburgh two-yard-line. The Browns targeted Robert Royal twice in the end zone (the guy who came into the game with 5 receptions and 4 drops on the year) but both passes were incomplete.

Facing fourth down the Browns opted to kick a field goal, just like the did early in the Buffalo game. Why is anyone’s guess. Maybe coach Eric Mangini wanted to spotlight kicker Phil Dawson in what could have been his last game in a Cleveland uniform.

You are 5-10, you are on the other team’s two-yard-line, why not go for it? There is nothing to lose there. At least when they faced the Bills they were going against one of the worst defenses in the league and could expect more scoring opportunities. That clearly is not the case against the Steelers.

Obviously when you give up 41 points those lost points don’t really make a difference, but if the Browns would have punched it in who knows how things would have played out the rest of the half?

The defense had a horrible day. Coming into the game the Browns were the only team in the league that had not given up 30 points this season. The Steelers took care of that in the first half as they took a 31-3 lead into the locker room.

Pittsburgh scored on its first five possessions and rolled up 418 yards in offense.

Perhaps defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who will reportedly interview for the head coaching job in Carolina, was already making dinner plans for The Pit and couldn’t be bothered to put together a solid defensive game plan.

“I thought we got beat in all three phases,” Mangini said in published reports. “They had a better plan than we did and when that happens against a team like this, you have a day like today. It’s difficult to feel any positives in the wake of what happened.”

We certainly echo that sentiment.

So in a season where the Browns were once 5-7 and dreaming of a .500 finish, the Browns instead finish 5-11 for the second year in a row and are now 2-10 under Mangini in the division.

Unfortunately the team had its worst performance by far in the last game of the season. Right or wrong, the memory of today’s game will linger with people more than the wins earlier in the year against New Orleans and New England.

And if the four-game winning streak to end last season was supposed to be a sign of progress under Mangini, what are we to make of the four-game losing streak to end this season? Was the losing streak a function of a tougher schedule – much like last year’s was built against teams with nothing to play for? Should one weigh more heavily than the other in determining the fate of Mangini and the coaching staff?

“I’m sure everybody thinks there is a possibility [of a coaching change],” left tackle Joe Thomas told The Plain Dealer. “We knew that was the way it was going to be coming into the season, so I don’t think anything was different.”

We’ve all seen this before. Chris Palmer’s final game was a 24-0 loss to the Titans in 2000, the last in a five-game losing streak. Romeo Crennel finished his final season with a six-game losing streak in 2008 that ended with a 31-0 loss to Pittsburgh.

As discouraging and disappointing as today’s game was, we really don’t relish the thought of starting over again with a new coach. A lot of what was wrong with this season can be fixed with improved talent and by bringing in an experienced coordinator on offense.

Just look at the Chiefs this year as an example: they brought in Charlie Weiss as offensive coordinator and the team improved from 25th to 9th in offense. Romeo took over the 30th ranked defense and improved them to 11th this year.

There’s little reason to believe the same can’t happen here in Cleveland with another strong draft, a little patience and more experience in the offensive coordinator position.

Here’s hoping Mike Holmgren sees things the same way.

We may find out soon enough.

A Tale of Two Halves in Tampa

What happened?

How did the Browns look so good in taking a 14-3 lead against Tampa, only to see the offense revert to 2009 levels of play calling and execution, eventually turning what looked like a sure opening-day win into a 17-14 loss to the Buccaneers?

It wasn’t even so much that they lost – this team is still rebuilding and will lose more games than it wins this season – as much as how they lost. The one thing you didn’t want to see was Jake Delhomme turn the ball over and make some of the bad decisions that haunted him last season in Carolina. He really needed to carry over his performance from the preseason, both for his confidence and to retain the confidence of the fan base.

But after leading the Browns to the early lead on a 41-yard pass to Mohamed Massaquoi and a 10-yard run by Peyton Hillis, the bad Jake Delhomme returned.

With a chance to put points on the board at the end of the first half after a Mike Adams interception, Delhomme made a horrible throw under pressure, Ronde Barber intercepted and returned the ball to the Browns 3. Tampa then scored right before halftime, trimming the Browns lead to 14-10.

The Browns moved the ball well in the first half, gaining 202 yards, but could only total 138 yards in the second half as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll fell back into his 2009 bad habits of inexplicable play calling. Daboll, supposedly “more comfortable” this year had Delhomme throw three straight passes – the third of which was intercepted – on the series following Eric Barton’s fumble recovery on the six-yard-line. Why?

After completing passes to seven different receivers in the first half, the wide receivers became an after thought about halfway through the third quarter. Was that play calling? Or another example of how this group of receivers just really isn’t all the good?

After Hillis fumbled the ball away at the Tampa 15-yard-line early in the third quarter, the offense ground to a halt. From that point on, the Browns only gained two first downs and had only one play of more than 10 yards.

The Browns also threw 38 passes to only 23 rushes for the game. The team can not win that way, especially on a day when Browns rushers were gaining 4.5 yards per run. Now obviously the game situation can dictate the play calling, but if the plan was to throw the ball that many times, it’s going to be a long year.

And going back to Barton’s fumble recovery for a minute, after falling on the ball he just laid there; why didn’t he get up and run with the ball? He wasn’t down by contact – at least not until defensive end Jason Trusnik jumped on him for no reason. It may have changed the play calling if the Browns hadn’t been starting the drive on their own 6.

OK, it was just one game. For all that went wrong, the Browns did some things well and we’re more disappointed than discouraged. They essentially lost this game through their mistakes, rather than Tampa beating them, but that shows that this team has virtually no margin for error this year; they can’t make mistakes and hope to win.

The running game was solid; the defense put pressure on Freeman, sacking him three times; and the young secondary held up well, with rookie T.J. Ward totaling 10 tackles, a forced fumble and a forced interception.

So while the team has some things to build on from this game, they also have plenty to work on as they prepare for the home opener against Kansas City.

Everything will be all right

Rise up this mornin’,
Smiled with the risin’ sun,

Three little birds

Pitch by my doorstep

Singin’ sweet songs

Of melodies pure and true,

Sayin’, (“This is my message to you-ou-ou:”)

Singin’: “Don’t worry ’bout a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.” – Bob Marley

I’m as disappointed and hurt as any Cleveland fan about LeBron James leaving for Miami. I don’t understand why these things seem to happen only in Cleveland. I just want to be a normal fan; I want to watch an important game involving a Cleveland team and not always be worrying about something horrible happening.

But I can’t, because I’m a Cleveland fan. For whatever reason, that’s the way it has always been, at least in my lifetime. When Mike Davis intercepted Brian Sipe in the end zone, I learned what it meant to be a Cleveland fan. That lesson has remained with me for 30 years. This is the path I have chosen.

Even though it can be painful and frustrating at times, luckily I can view Cleveland sports from the perspective of adulthood. I have a career, a beautiful wife and a wonderful daughter. I watch sports because I enjoy them tremendously and because I know, someday, when a Cleveland team finally brings a championship home, it will be exciting, unbelievable and something I will never forget.

And because I’m an adult, when one of our teams lose, I don’t need to stomp my feet, shake my fists or throw things like a hoople head. I know I may be down for a few hours after a loss, but the sun will come up the next day. The millionaires won’t ruin my day just because they happened to play poorly.

This doesn’t make me, or anyone, “less” of a fan, the same way that disagreeing with the President doesn’t make someone “less” of an American. There are so many real problems in this world that whether the local team wins or loses is insignificant in the grand scheme.

Being a Cleveland fan is what I am, but it’s not who I am. I have my opinions about what the GMs, coaches and players should do; but they are no more or less valid than anyone else’s. That’s the great thing about sports – there’s room for everyone and for everyone’s perspective.

If you are Dan Gilbert, Randy Lerner or Larry Dolan, then sports is a business. Same for the players. For the rest of us, it’s entertainment.

At the end of the day, win or lose, we’re all Cleveland fans and we all want the same thing – to cheer for a championship team. And that day will come.

Until then, “every little thing gonna be all right.” I promise.

The World Fights Back

Well, that was disappointing.

The U.S. fell to Ghana in extra time and their World Cup has come to a close.

It’s hard to believe it’s over; after two weeks of exciting play, bad calls, comebacks and last-minute goals, it all ended today.

The U.S. fell back into their bad habit of conceding early goals, as Ghana got on the scoreboard less than 5 minutes into the game. Not only was it the first goal Tim Howard conceded in more than 135 minutes, it was the first goal Ghana scored in free play during the entire tournament.

Of course it was; the team just can’t lose, it has to lose in surprising, painful ways. As a Cleveland fan I should be used to it but it never gets easier. Maybe that’s why this team was so much fun to watch. Cleveland sports fans are used to rooting for underdogs and understand the sun doesn’t shine on the same dog’s rear every day – or any day in the case of Cleveland.

Maybe all the comebacks, the roller-coaster ride, the fighting against refs and a governing body that didn’t want them to advance finally became too much for the Americans to overcome. Maybe they finally ran into a team – Ghana did win the African Cup of Nations this year – that was their equal. Going four games without your forwards scoring a goal certainly didn’t help. Whatever the case, it’s over now.

“The finality of it is brutal,” Landon Donovan said in published reports. “When you realize how much you put into it, not only for the last four years but for your whole life. There’s no guarantee there’s another opportunity. It’s disappointing.”

And the US team is left to wonder what could have been, as the path to the semifinals may never be this easy again.

Hopefully the team can take both the good and the bad from this tournament and build on it. Hopefully this year’s performance was not an aberration, but the beginning of the norm. The faces will certainly change, as you have to wonder how much longer players such as Donovan, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra can continue in international duty.

We’ll find out in 2014 in Brazil.

I can’t wait.

Rats!

Everything in Cleveland sports ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t be Cleveland. – Coughlin’s Law

Less than 24 hours after the Cavs season ended prematurely in Boston, a feeling of numbness still envelopes Cleveland. I still can’t believe when Sunday afternoon rolls around there won’t be a Cavs game on.

On one hand, for long-time fans this is reality. If it says Cleveland on the jersey then, ultimately, something bad is bound to happen. On the other hand, why? Why does this always seem to happen?

How did the Cavs become the first NBA team to post 60-win seasons and not make it to the NBA finals?

Why us?

The answer is both simple and complex. The Cavs – both the coaches and the players – just didn’t get the job done. That’s the simple answer. The other answers are harder to find.

Last season, the Cavs built a team to beat Boston. But then they didn’t face Boston and lost to Orlando.

This year, the Cavs built a team to beat Orlando. Of course, they never made it to Orlando.

In hindsight, it’s easy to say that trading for Shaq was a mistake. Same with Antawn Jamison. That’s the thing about hindsight, it’s easy to be right after the fact.

Maybe a better approach would be to just build a solid team, not worrying about matching up with just one particular team in the league. I don’t know, but it seems like in the coming months we’re going to find out the team’s new strategy.

Mike Brown has taken way more than his share of the blame for this loss, even for him. The hoople heads are missing the bigger picture when they call for his head. Firing the coach is the easy part; hiring a new coach is far more complicated. Just ask the Browns. But we’ll cover that another time.

Probably the worst part about the Cavs early exit is it unleashed the national media’s quest to have LeBron leave Cleveland. If the Cavs had advanced, we would have been spared the nonsense for a few more weeks. Sadly, that’s not the case, so already today we’ve been treated to “analysis” such as:

Fallout from Megaflop: LeBron needs new team


Oh no, LeBron took his jersey off – after the game – there is symbolism there, I tell you!

LeBron’s playoff exit means John Calipari watch

Yes, let’s hire a college coach who failed miserably in his previous NBA job.

LeBron James’ flirtations with free agency will leave some cities feeling scorned

So New York won’t buy any LeBron jerseys if he’s not a Knick? Oh, poor you.

And let’s not forget the “experts” at ESPN.

I swear, when LeBron resigns in Cleveland ESPN may actually just shut down, with all the hot air they’ve wasted talking about how certain they are that he just has to leave.

And on, and on, and on: LeBron Media Recap

Look, this isn’t easy and it’s certainly not fun. But this is Cleveland. We’re not Chicago, where they cry because the Cubs can’t win. We’re not Boston and the formerly “tortured” Red Sox fans. We deal with disappointment every year, every sports season. It’s what we do, but it’s not who we are.

Just remember this Chinese proverb:

The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.

That sums up the Cleveland sports fan pretty well.

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