At halftime, it appeared the Cleveland Browns inability to stop the running game was going to cost them another game they should’ve been able to win.
The Browns did score right before the half on a Brian Hoyer 1 yard pass to TE Jim Dray, to cut Tennessee’s lead to 28-10, but based on how the Titans moved the ball on the ground, it looked bleak for the brown and orange.
Then, two things happened. Titans’ QB Jake Locker was ruled out for the rest of the contest, and apparently, so did the home team’s willingness to keep running the football.
It got so odd, that in the middle of the fourth quarter, we were wondering about Tennessee’s refusal to continue to exploit the Cleveland defense’s obvious weakness, stopping the ground game.
The Titans ran the ball 30 times on the day, gaining an average of 5 yards per carry. Let us repeat, 5 yards per carry! If you are a Tennessee fan, you have to be seriously second guessing your coach, particularly with your starting quarterback out of the game.
After reserve passer Charlie Whitehurst completed his first two passes for 86 yards and two TDs, he went 11 of 19 the rest of the game for a paltry 108 yards.
Yes, the Titans gained 38 of their 149 yards on the ground on a reverse to WR Kendall Wright, and Locker picked up 34 more yards on scrambles, but to basically ignore the running game in the second half is puzzling.
All that said, the Browns still had to put up the points to overcome the 25 point deficit, the largest comeback in the team’s illustrious history, in order to come away with the 29-28 win to square the season record at 2-2.
Some of them were the usual, such as the running game, which gained 175 yards during the game, including 123 in 22 carries from Ben Tate, who returned to the lineup after a knee injury in the opener at Pittsburgh.
Hoyer was solid as well, completing 21 of 37 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns, including the game winner to Travis Benjamin, who overcame a muffed punt earlier in the game to garner two TD receptions.
Taylor Gabriel caught four passes for 95 yards and Miles Austin had two big catches on scoring drives. And TE Jordan Cameron returned to be part of the offense after getting a little healthier during the bye week, grabbing three Hoyer throws for 33 yards.
The special teams chipped in with a huge blocked punt by Tank Carder that resulted in a safety, making the score 28-15. It took all conversation about when to go for a two-point conversion out the window.
Defensively, the Browns needed to pitch a shutout in the second half and they did. K’waun Williams played a big role in the game with first round pick Justin Gilbert out of the mix, making six tackles and getting a sack. Armonty Bryant and Jabaal Sheard also sacked the Tennessee passer during the game.
We also have to mention the horrible officiating crew, which clearly lost control of the game after Locker early in the second quarter to give the Titans a 14-0 lead.
First, they set up the first Tennessee TD with a pass interference penalty on the struggling Joe Haden which gave the Titans a 29-yard penalty. The pass just at least five yards out-of-bounds.
Second, the personal foul call on the Locker touchdown against Chris Kirksey could be because the Cleveland player was blocked into the sliding Locker. He did hit the quarterback with a forearm, but to us, we thought it was at least questionable that he aimed for his head.
So, the Browns now sit at 2-2 just a half game behind the Ravens and Steelers in the AFC North, with Pittsburgh visiting next week.
Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil have to figure out the run defense because you know the Steelers will come in trying to run the ball right down the Browns’ collective throats.
If that isn’t solved and solved soon, it will be a long year for the Cleveland defense. Unbelievably, the offense has carried Cleveland thus far.
Who thought that before the season began?