After last week’s win over New Orleans, Browns’ coach Mike Pettine said his team could easily be 2-0 or 0-2.
He can now make that 3-0 or 0-3 after today’s last second loss to the Baltimore Ravens, 23-21 at First Energy Stadium.
The Browns had several chances to put this game away, but they couldn’t put any more points on the board after Miles Austin caught a 4-yard pass from Brian Hoyer with 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Two plays into the fourth quarter, Tashaun Gipson intercepted a Joe Flacco pass and returned it to the Baltimore 30-yard line. Flacco was hit by Paul Kruger as he threw the pass.
But, Isaiah Crowell lost eight yards on first down, and Hoyer couldn’t make up the yardage on the next two plays, and Billy Cudiff’s 50-yard field goal attempt hit the upright.
Lost opportunity #1
After the Ravens’ moved the ball on one play to the Cleveland 30, the defense stiffened, stuffing Flacco on 3rd and 1, and then Lorenzo Taliaferro on 4th down, giving the Browns the ball on their own 20.
On second down, Hoyer hit WR Taylor Gabriel for 70 yards to the Ravens’ 9. The ball was under thrown, had Hoyer hit Gabriel in stride it would have been an easy touchdown.
Still, the Browns did have a first down and goal. However, a one yard loss on a run by Terrance West, a sack of Hoyer, and a terrible illegal forward pass penalty on Hoyer (he was way over the line of scrimmage when he threw the pass), forced another field goal attempt by Cundiff, which was blocked by the Ravens.
This time, Baltimore moved it down the field in two minutes and converted a field goal by Justin Tucker to trim the Browns’ lead to 21-20 with just a little over five minutes remaining.
After the Browns got the football back, it seemed like they ignored the run a little bit, trying to run just once on the next three plays, and they had to punt.
The Browns ran the ball effectively the first two games, but tried only 29 runs today for an average of 3.1 yards per attempt.
Cleveland stopped Baltimore following Spencer Lanning’s punt, but after getting the ball back with 2:19 remaining on their own 7, they ran the ball twice, the first a Crowell 5-yard run, followed by a loss of 2 yards.
The key play of the game came with 2:09 on the clock and the Ravens’ out of timeouts. A run that didn’t convert the third down would have resulted in the two-minute warning.
Without much to lose, Hoyer tried to throw for the first down, which if converted would have allowed Cleveland to run out the clock. But Hoyer’s throw was behind Andrew Hawkins and fell incomplete.
A perfectly thrown deep ball to Steve Smith put the Ravens’ in range for Tucker to win the game. Joe Haden was beaten on the pass, but it is doubtful he could have covered it better. It was simply a great toss by Flacco.
Hoyer had a great game statistically, hitting 19 of 25 passes for 290 yards and the TD pitch to Austin. However, four of his six misses came in the fourth quarter.
The run defense is troubling because for the third straight game, the opponents gashed the Browns with the run. The Ravens gained 160 yards rushing, which is way too many if Pettine and Jim O’Neil want to get after the passer.
Cleveland has no sacks today, and in order to really rush the quarterback, you have to keep the opponent in 2nd and 3rd and long situations. If you can control the running game, that is difficult to do.
Another troubling thing is special teams, as the blocked field goal in the fourth quarter was huge. The Browns could have forced Baltimore to score a touchdown to win, but couldn’t do it.
Heading into the bye week, those are things for the coaching staff to work on. It will be a good test to see if they can eliminate the errors in these areas.
Until then, the poorly played fourth quarter will gnaw at the entire organization.