With all the pre-game talk about parties, suspensions, and inactives, the Cleveland Browns still had to play one more football game before the season ended.
And for those who think Mike Pettine lost his football team, you were proven wrong today, as the Browns played hard, but still came up short in a 20-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Using an ultra conservative offense because they were forced to play rookie Connor Shaw, and a tough hard-nosed defense, the Browns were tied at halftime at three, and actually took a 10-3 lead with 3:29 left in the third quarter on Terrance West’s short run.
But the defense couldn’t hold the lead once again, and once the Ravens took the lead, there was very curious play calling and Baltimore won going away and received a playoff spot when Kansas City beat San Diego.
All in all, the defense only allowed 20 points, but the problem was they allowed 17 in the final quarter.
Yes, they are depleted by injuries, but remember in three of the last four games, Cleveland had a late advantage only to see the defense give up the game winning points.
They should take accountability for that.
It seemed that once the Browns took the lead, the defensive strategy became conservative, meaning they didn’t go after Joe Flacco they way they did earlier.
Without the pressure, Flacco got hot hitting 8 of 9 throws down the stretch, including a 53-yard shot to Torrey Smith, which set the Ravens up to take the lead.
After Baltimore took a 13-10 lead, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s play calling got strange. With the running game being effective all day (West had 94 yards on 18 attempts), Shaw became the mad bomber, throwing consecutive deep balls to WR Travis Benjamin, both which fell incomplete.
Baltimore got the ball back, scored again, and the game was basically over.
Several people have mentioned Shanahan as a head coaching candidate this off-season, but as with Washington coach Jay Gruden, if his last name was different, no one would be interested in him, at least at this point in his career.
Shaw performed okay considering he was undrafted, hitting 14 of 28 throws for 177 yards, but also showed his lack of arm strength, and why he is not a serious contender for a starting job next summer.
With Brian Hoyer a free agent, and Manziel showing little in his six quarters of play, the Browns will again have questions at this most critical position. We will say it again, when the Browns get competent play at QB, they are a good football team. Not superstar play, just a solid performance.
One of the trademarks of the Cleveland defense all season was getting turnovers, but they couldn’t get one today, and had they got one, it could have turned the game (no pun intended) for the Browns. They forced Flacco into some poor throws early and even forced a fumble (Paul Kruger), but didn’t get the big play.
After the game, owner Jimmy Haslam made the announcement that Pettine and GM Ray Farmer will be back next season, which is the correct course of action.
Yes, some people will point to the five straight losses to end the year, but Cleveland had chances to win four of those late in the games, overall, there was progress. The seven wins is the most since 2007.
The Browns identity got a way from them a little bit and the injuries didn’t help. That’s not an excuse, but the facts.
The offense needs a strong running game and Alex Mack’s broken leg killed the success the Browns were having, and the run defense took a hit when Phil Taylor got hurt.
Next year, with another draft building more depth, these issues can be addressed.
Jumping from 4-12 to 7-9 in nice. Next year, the playoffs will be expected.