Browns coach Pat Shurmur will always remember his first visit to Lucas Oil Stadium, which resulted in his first NFL win on Sept. 18, 2011.
Shurmur’s second trip to Indianapolis was also memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.
The Colts defeated Cleveland 17-13 on Sunday afternoon, handing the Browns their franchise record-tying 11th straight road loss — and giving Shurmur’s critics plenty of new reasons to call for his firing.
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“I think this is an isolated, ‘We lost the game.’ I don’t think it talks about any trends,” the second-year coach insisted. “We’ll go back tomorrow and get ready to win the next one.
“As much as last week was a team victory, I think it’s safe to say this was a team loss.”
That team loss dropped Cleveland to 1-6 this season and 5-18 since Shurmur was hired.
More importantly, it made the Browns 0-1 since Jimmy Haslam III was approved by the NFL as its new owner. The Tennessee billionaire was in attendance and played a big role in the CBS broadcast, clearly showing displeasure at key junctures of the game.
Though Haslam has stated that he won’t review Shurmur’s job status until the end of the season, his face appeared to tell a different story to viewers.
“We thought we were moving in a positive direction, but we let a few plays slip by,” Cleveland linebacker Kaluka Maiava said quietly. “Give a team an inch and they’ll win, plain and simple.”
The Browns gave Indianapolis many inches, especially on the ground, where unknown Vick Ballard rushed for a game- and career-high 84 yards. He entered the day with 67 yards as a pro. Cleveland managed just 55 rushing yards as a team against the NFL’s fourth-worst run defense.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck also made them pay by running for two touchdowns as part of drives that totaled a whopping 25 plays, 161 yards and 13:57 in the first half. Browns counterpart Brandon Weeden outgained him 264-186 in passing yards, but never held a lead on the scoreboard.
“We didn’t make enough plays in the passing game to get it done,” said Shurmur, who called 41 pass plays and 17 runs. “We didn’t run the ball here well enough. They didn’t sack us and we didn’t have any turnovers, so we’ve got to score more points than we did.”
On the latter point, Shurmur should look in the mirror because he showed no urgency on a day when Indianapolis desperately tried to hand him a win.
First, he attempted to run out the clock in the second quarter — not take a shot at the end zone — with the ball on the Cleveland 41-yard line and the Browns trailing, 14-6.
Even after Indianapolis coach Bruce Arians gave him a chance to come to his senses by calling a timeout with one second left, Shurmur instructed Weeden to take a knee. The Colts then gave the Browns an untimed down by putting 12 players on the field, finally prodding Shurmur to throw long (albeit unsuccessfully).
In the third quarter, Shurmur avoided going for a 2-point conversion that could have tied the game at 14, putting Cleveland behind the eight ball for the rest of the game.
And in his coup de grace, Shurmur opted to punt on fourth-and-1 at the Indianapolis 41 with 6:38 left in the fourth. Two incomplete passes and a wasted timeout preceded the gutless decision, which came with the Browns trailing 17-13.
“I made a decision there, which was the right decision in my opinion,” Shurmur said. “I’m not worried about that decision. I wouldn’t do these things different.”
Cleveland later staged its weekly exhibition of poor clock management by wasting 2:11 to run five plays, ultimately leaving it with one second to fling laterals around the field, but the game was lost long before the final whistle sounded.
Then again, so were Shurmur’s chances of being the Browns’ coach in 2013. The only question is when will Haslam swing the axe.
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.