Nine games and seven losses into the season, the Browns still haven’t figured out how to call plays in a timely manner. Or choose the right plays. Or communicate on the sideline. Or execute in key situations.
It’s no wonder, then, that the air in Cleveland’s locker room smelled like anger, exasperation and dirty socks Sunday following Baltimore’s 25-15 win at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“It’s definitely frustrating, without a doubt,” wide receiver Greg Little said. “This is a feeling that I’m tired of and my teammates are tired of.
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“We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot over and over again. It just comes down to somebody has to make that one play that makes the difference.”
As has been the case all fall, the Browns made a bunch of plays that affected the outcome in a negative way. Not only did they blow a 15-14 lead in the final five minutes, they managed to make most of the 65,449 fans disappear before the final whistle.
Some of Cleveland’s mistakes were comical, like having 13 defensive players on the field, but still allowing Ravens running back Ray Rice to gain 10 yards.
Some of them were costly, like when running back Chris Ogbonnaya lined up illegally to wipe out an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Weeden to Josh Gordon.
Most of them, however, were much worse — and flat-out unacceptable for a professional football team that has been practicing game situations for more than three months.
“We really let them off the hook today,” safety T.J. Ward said. “We gave them too many penalties, we hurt ourselves, we had the personal foul, the 12 men on the field, and they made some plays.
“It just hurts, to know that we stopped them for so long, but let them off the hook.”
If the aforementioned Rice play didn’t symbolize the Browns’ season, their final drive of the third quarter did.
After taking possession near midfield, Cleveland committed back-to-back false start penalties (by guards Shawn Lauvao and John Greco), then wasted a timeout when coach Pat Shurmur was tardy with his play call.
If that wasn’t bad enough, when the Browns subsequently ran Shurmur’s selection on first-and-20, it was a simple 1-yard pass from Weeden to Trent Richardson.
“We had a couple of times when the communication just wasn’t right,” said Shurmur, who also burned two first-half timeouts because of his molasses-like speed in calling plays. “We need to get a little smoother with that. It was just communication issues that need to get cleaned up.”
Several Cleveland players, including Richardson, said those issues should have been “cleaned up” by this point of the season.
The third overall pick in the NFL Draft was surprisingly outspoken, saying, “It’s really frustrating at times. We’ve got to make sure we get our plays called and get everybody out of the huddle. We’ve got to get the play calls to Brandon and we’ve got to get better.”
Richardson continued, becoming more emotional with each word.
“It’s not just your play calls, it’s when you get your formations from the sideline,” he said. “You’ve got to do better with all of that. Everybody just has to come together and do their jobs. We have to be accountable.”
Also hurting the Browns’ cause were the seven officials, led by referee Jeff Triplette, who turned a blind eye to Baltimore’s well-earned reputation for extracurricular activity.
Defensive tackle Phil Taylor did the best job of standing up for his teammates, most notably ripping the helmet off Ravens guard Marshal Yanda before flipping him over.
“I ain’t gonna let nobody punk me, you know what I’m saying?” Taylor said. “They just do cheap stuff after the play, but that’s football. They try to do that to get in your head, but you can’t let ’em.”
Baltimore’s actions were so egregious that soft-spoken linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was still steaming 45 minutes after the game. The defensive captain admitted the Browns “don’t have respect from officials, from teams, anything. And we won’t until we start playing a little bit more physical and also winning these close ballgames.”
“I want to say the right things, but those guys, they get away with a lot of things over there,” Jackson said. “We don’t retaliate at all. We play between the lines, but we seem to get the flags called on us. It’s just the nature of the business.”
Business, of course, is what prompted the original Browns to move to Maryland in 1996 and become the Ravens. It also is the reason why Cleveland was saddled with an albatross of an expansion team and a white elephant of a stadium.
On game days, though, NFL football is supposed to be all about fun. But right now, the Browns’ players and their fans aren’t having any.
“I try not to go there,” kicker Phil Dawson said, choosing his words carefully. “It doesn’t really do me any good to play that game. It stinks to lose a game, especially a division game at home, a game that we were in. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.