Three Plays That Changed Everything

Only in Cleveland can an absolutely beautiful Sunday be completely ruined by our sports teams. Yes, I was in attendance for the Pat Shurmur show yesterday. It was great to be in a full stadium that rocked again. You forget just how fun it is when our teams are good, especially the Browns. It has been so long.  But in classic Cleveland fashion, our afternoon was mucked up in the end. Its easy to look back and say what if, but there were three things in particular that completely changed the course of the game:

1.  Browns 3 Eagles 3 – 2nd quarter – 1:00 remaining – third and two Cleveland – The Eagles had used two of their timeouts after two straight Browns running plays. Shurmur clearly wanted to get a first down, run the clock out, and head into the locker room tied at 3-3. The call was a play action fake and a throw in the flat to fullback Owen Marecic. QB Brandon Weeden sold the fake well and put the ball right on Marecic’s hands. That was the problem.

Marecic dropped the pass, the clock stopped, and the Browns were forced to punt, giving the Eagles a shot with the ball one more time before the half. Naturally, Michael Vick took his team right down the field and scored a TD to take a 10-3 lead with 23 seconds left in the first half.

If Marecic catches that ball, the Browns are able to run the clock out and head into the locker room with the momentum and feeling great about how they played defensively. Instead, they got a gut punch because their fullback couldn’t catch an easy swing pass in the flat. It was truly a turning point in the game.

2. Eagles 10 Browns 9 – 4th quarter – 13:58 remaining – first and 10 Philadelphia – After the Browns kicked their second field goal to make it 10-6. Vick faded back to pass and was intercepted by all-world Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who ran it in for a touchdown. The Stadium was up for grabs as the Browns took a fourth quarter lead which seemed infathomable a few hours earlier. The D’Qwell pick six put the Browns ahead 15-10.

Now everyone who knows football will tell you, there is no difference in being up five or six in the fourth quarter. It was a completely obvious time to go for two. Spare me your “two field goals can tie you” bit, because the Browns defense had been rock solid all game long. If you get the two-point conversion, you are up seven and a touchdown cannot beat you. But out ran kicker Phil Dawson. I turned to my uncle and mother and said “you know we are going to lose 17-16, right?” Then I tweeted the following:


Well, I don’t need to tell you the rest of what happened. You already know.  The first question posed to Shurmur at his postgame press conference was why he didn’t go for two. His response:

“We talked about going for two, but there was a full quarter,” Shurmur said. “We wanted to get the points, absolutely. There’s a decision to be made. I think that decision is made near the end of the game where it’s a one- or two-possession game.”

Still a completely head scratching decision to me. In a similar situation last night in Denver, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin went for two with a five point lead with 14:13 left in the fourth quarter. Tomlin is a Super Bowl winning coach. Shurmur? Not so much.

3.  Browns 15 Eagles 10 – 4th quarter – 1:25 remaining  – 2nd and goal Philadelphia The Eagles are obviously driving down for the winning score and reach the Browns four yard line. Vick takes the snap from center and rolls out of the pocket. He looks for Jeremy Maclin in the corner and fires a pass which ends up going right through the hands of Linebacker LJ Fort, who had already intercepted a pass and played well all game long.

“He threw it right to me and it went through my hands,” Fort said. “I should have made that play, definitely.”

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyways. If Fort catches the errant Vick pass, the game is over and we are all celebrating a monster upset today. Instead, people like me are writing pieces like this, wondering just how this one slipped through our fingers. Fort is clearly not to blame, he is, after all, a Linebacker, and not an offensive skill position player like Marecic or Greg Little (who’s butterfingers allowed a first quarter red zone interception) are.

Ah….We almost had this one. But then again, we’ve seen this for the last 13 miserable years. The Browns have found new ways to lose, especially in their home openers, since their return in 1999. This one had nothing on the Dwayne Rudd helmet toss almost 10 years ago to the date, but it may have been more painful. But like that loss to the Chiefs, it very easily could have been avoided.

 (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

  • Ohrly

    Marecic drop is the one that hurts the most for me. We should’ve kept Clutts last year.

  • mgbode

    yeah, we should have gone to our stellar week1 run game?

  • TD

    For all of those saying Shurmur was right to kick. From Grantland today:

    It’s pretty easy to pick on Browns coach Pat Shurmur this morning, so let’s spare him the cheap jokes and get to the facts. When D’Qwell Jackson picked off Michael Vick and took the return back to the house for a 27-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, the Browns took a 15-10 lead before attempting the conversion. Shurmur sent his kicking team out there and picked up an extra point to go up 16-10. On their final meaningful drive, though, the Eagles scored a touchdown and picked up the deciding score on the extra point, winning 17-16 after Brandon Weeden threw his fourth pick of the day.This isn’t an egregious decision because it came back to haunt the Browns; it’s a critical failure because Shurmur chose the option that added virtually nothing to his team’s chances of winning.2 Kicking the extra point gave the Browns a 16-10 lead with 14 minutes to go; the only advantage it gave them was having the ability to tie if Philadelphia kicked two field goals. That’s far less likely to occur than the Eagles scoring one touchdown. The value added by a successful two-point conversion is significantly greater, more than enough to justify the risk of going for two. The two-point chart suggests that the Browns should have gone for two unless their chances of converting were below 24 percent, a conversion rate that even the league’s worst rushing attack would find attainable.Furthermore, it’s an awful decision because it employs exactly zero foresight. You don’t need to be thinking about win probability models or game theory to realize that going from a five-point lead to a six-point one in the fourth quarter is basically worthless. Coaches have charts that tell them when they should kick or choose to go for a two-pointer, but a second-generation coach like Shurmur should have easy decisions like this instilled in his DNA. There are some two-point decisions that require a closer consideration of the variables than the simple numbers indicate. This wasn’t one of them.Often, these sorts of scenarios end up being theoretical exercises because, eventually, the game situation after the decision morphs into something totally different, rendering the conversion decision mostly irrelevant in the bigger picture of the game. This was the rare example of a poor coaching decision that seemed ill-advised on the surface and immediately came back to bite the team in question. Situational play-calling tends to be overrated in terms of judging a coach’s total effectiveness, but Shurmur’s decision was so bad that it raises fundamental questions about his core competency.

  • MrCleaveland

    The Factory is back open.

  • mgbode

    yeah, and that formula says to go for 2 when you are up 10-6 in the 2nd quarter? and he doesn’t even mention the possibility of getting a FG to make it a 2 score game?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    They tried that Richardson ran it 19x now maybe if they had run Jackson or even Hardesty some that may have helped because it was clear Richardson wasn’t at full speed.
    How about using one of those TEs?

  • mgbode

    have to say that I did notice Vickers get stuffed on a 4th and short play last Thursday.

    (he also made one heck of a block on one of Murray’s outside runs though)

  • mgbode

    if Hardesty is the answer, then you are answering the wrong questions.

  • Seriously. The only thing I could figure at the time was that he had himself on his fant team and wanted those 25 rushing yards points!

  • Chris

    Hey moron, if you want to win, you have to. There were 2 other games yesterday where early in the 4th quarter a team went for 2 to make it a 7 point game. Why are there other teams doing this if its such a wrong move? Play to win the game! Not to not lose it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Probably but then you are talking about a team with two offensive coordinators as well.

  • BrownsFanSF

    It was worse than I expected, by a long shot. The last thing we need right now is calls for Colt McCoy (and I’m a Colt apologist). Weeden is going to go back to the film room, see that we botched 4 or 5 passes that would have been the difference between this and 17 points out of the offense. He’ll learn and the game will slow down. If by week 8 it doesn’t, we start talking about Matt Barkley…

  • Gren

    Did anyone have any confidence in the Offense yesterday? I didn’t think so. So why the h would you think they would convert a 2 pt conversion? You wouldn’t and obviously Shurmer didn’t either.

  • Steve

    If you want your argument to have a lasting effect, avoid the ad hominem. And how is kicking the extra point playing to not lose the game? Not that I ever understood that phrase. Be aggressive? Take risks? Sure, that makes sense. But playing not to lose is just a substitute for “I have no real analysis”

  • Steve

    Appeal to authority only works when the authority is an actual expert. Grantland is, unequivocally, not an expert on anything. At all. It is a bunch of “don’t-we-sound-smart!” pseudo-intellectualism. Congrats to them on exhibiting 20-20 hindsight.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I just don’t see this season going well game one just made me more resolute in that belief. Even still I hope there isn’t more talk of another QB until there’s a new head coach, GM and president. And even then it’ll be frustrating but what else is new with this organization.

  • Calling people names is a great way to get yourself a comment ban on this website. No need for this type of post here. Everyone is entitled to their opinions.

  • Steve

    If you don’t have confidence in your offense, then you have to think you won’t score again either, meaning you have to balance your odds of winning with 15 or 17 against 16. Sitting on 16 is fairly useless. But Shurmur seemed to think his team still had more points left in them.

  • BayAreaCleFan

    I disagree with the going for 2 decision. Sure, hindsight is 20/20. But let’s say they go for 2 and don’t make it…then the Philly kicker makes the FG from 45 yards out (he missed)…then we would have been up 15-13 going into the last drive and they would just simply have needed a FG to win. Of course, lots of hypotheticals, but my point is…with 14 minutes left and the our offense was playing, there were at least 2-3 possessions left for Philly. I’m not sure how the math works, but it’s hard to 2nd-guess a coach there.

  • maxfnmloans

    how does a team have 10 points with a conversion still in the balance? 2 safeties, then a TD?

  • Steve

    Does it matter how they got there? The point is that the chart isn’t foolproof (and is expressly wrong on the trail by 10 play, you have to go for 2, so that you can get within one score) and only works if you are sure that either you or your opponent will not score again.

  • Steve

    Enough evidence that the conversion chart is not reliable on its own is expressed just above it on the wiki page.

    “A team down fourteen points . . . it is better to go for two after the first
    score, because if the team makes it, they can kick an extra point in
    their next score to secure a win, while if they miss, they still have a
    chance to make the next two-point conversion to get to fourteen. . . The odds of converting a two-point try either on the first
    attempt (securing a win) or the second (securing a tie and sending the
    game into overtime) are higher than the odds of missing both (securing a
    loss), as long as the expected probability is higher than about 39

  • Oso Johnson

    The Browns always find new ways to lose, usually exquisitely painful ways. The Eagles did everything they could to grant this team an upset, but they just wouldn’t take it. This one is on the coach. Shurmur never should have left Weeden in past the third quarter. He was an idiot for not going for a two point conversion. Football is not rocket science, and Shurmur, in his second year now, does not exhibit a basic understanding of the game or the role a coach has when one of his players is struggling.
    One game is not a season and It is way too early to panic, but he had better start showing some value, or we are going to have be starting over once again next year with a whole new “system”.

  • paulbip

    Bad teams find a way to lose. The D gave up the 2nd most yards in the NFL yesterday. Not good. Shurmer will give way to Chilly when Holmgren is fired.

  • henry brown

    It is definitely the wrong move and has been proven over and over again.

  • mgbode

    if the Eagles made that 4th quarter FG, then noone would be saying it was the wrong move though.

  • mgbode

    dang, this is going to get buried here, but I really thought about why I liked that he kicked the 1pter there.

    he was playing for the win, rather than a tie. if he goes for 2pts, then he is acknowledging that the Eagles are likely to score a TD and chasing those points ahead of time hoping to tie them. going for 1pt demonstrates he either expects us to stone them or that we will get another score, making it a 2 possession game. he was going for the win.

    (or he expected Philly to make 2 FGs and was playing for the tie anyway 🙂 )

  • Anne

    3rd round. Weeden was projected as a 2nd or 3rd round guy. You’re right, McCoy was better than what we saw yesterday.

  • this. ^^

  • MrCleaveland

    Hmmm, Chris, I was sure than my analysis was right — or at least defensible. But then you helpfully pointed out that I’m a moron, which I didn’t know . . . probably because I’m a moron. Who knew?

    So in retrospect, you must be right.

    Thanks, genius.

  • Harv 21

    wait, a founding member of WFNY Nerd Club subcommittee is a moron … I’m a happy member of club … I am … he … subcommittee is … wait, what?

  • mgbode

    you have to admit. it’s an interesting theory. Mr. C is actually a moron. he has spent all of this time cultivating an internet persona, which would lead us to believe that he is in fact intelligent when behind his silicon shield there was in fact nothing.

  • Harv 21

    orrrr, we regulars are all morons, and this stuff we toss at each other is like chimps hopping and gesturing with bared teeth, and Chris is right and has had bout enough. Ok, hot tub, get me the hell out of this freshmen dorm.

  • mgbode

    well, everyone knows I am a moron. i have nothing to hide there 🙂

  • why is noone talking about the vick fumble that we came up with with three minutes left in the game. shurmur challenged it and they said it was unchallengable. why?

  • MrCleaveland

    You guys are too . . . uh, what’s the word? . . . um, it’s right on the tip of my nose . . . uh . . .

  • Harv 21

    … smart. What did I win?

  • ICantTakeItAnymore

    How can you possibly say that the defense didnt play extremely well. They had constant preasure on Vick and were all over the passing plays. My lone criticism (aside from the fort drop, which is obvious) is that with the game on the line on the final Eagles drive, they pounded the ball right down our throats with McCoy, and it worked.

    Offensively, that was the worst performance I have seen in a while and the all time worst QB performance I have ever seen. 12-35 (~35% completion pct), 118yds, 4 picks, 2 missed wide open TDs, 2 fumbles… ugh. There is no other way to describe it than the worst QB performance of any Brown ever. Why am I starting to worry in week one? Well, because Weeden has play approximately 9 quarters against starters and has 7-8 picks, 5-6 fumbles, and 0 TD’s. Rookie or not, that doesnt look promising and I dont recall any Browns QB having that bad of a start. To top it off, a fan such as myself, can see that Weeden is staring down who he is going to throw to and has not looked accurate down the field.

    That said, there were many critical drops (although i must say that while the drop by little on the slant at the goal line was catchable, it was none the less, to high with for the contact he had to brace for right as he was catching it. If that was low and on line, i doubt even little could have dropped it) and for some reason the TE position (a real weapon we have in my opinion) seemed to disappear.

  • ICantTakeItAnymore

    Agreed. Marecic sucks. With 13 M in cap space and no action in free agency, it still baffles me as to why the Browns couldnt afford to keep Vickers.

    If Weeden hit Mo Mass on that stop and go early, the whole game dynamic would have been different. Weeden would have been confident all game, the Browns would have smelled blood, and the Eagles would have had to back off the line and Richardson could have gotten going a bit more.

    That play to me was the point at which the Browns good offensive start (it was brief but good) ended and nothing good happened after that.

  • ICantTakeItAnymore

    Little should have caught the ball. However, the ball was to high. When you know your receiver is going to get drilled on a slant over the middle (particularly at the goal line), you are supposed to place the ball low and in front so if the receiver doesnt catch it, the ball goes into the ground. Again, that was Edwardsesque not doubt, but the ball placement was terrible as well.

  • Harv 21

    They didn’t keep Vickers b/c he’s is a blow-up run blocker but can’t catch the ball, and in the WCO offense the FB is on the field less but is still a passing option when he is. Marecic is having trouble catching on the run; Vickers was dropping and juggling easy tosses while standing still. He didn’t get the contract he wanted from anyone because he’s a one-dimensional dinosaur in a pass-happy league. Just because Marecic looks like a bust doesn’t mean they should have paid Vickers what he stupidly demanded.

  • ICantTakeItAnymore

    when you have 13 M in cap space and no intentions of spending it, why not pay Vickers. Are you saying we are better off with Marecic? Are you saying we would be in worse shape with 9-10 M in cap space and vickers than 13 M in cap space with Marecic? Vickers is a top 10 full back, WCO or otherwise. Marecic is no better a receiver than Vickers and both Weeden and Richardson would benefit from Vickers presence. All I know, is when you have space and your trying to get better, you retain the best players available. If an upgrade for Vickers was available or if they were planning to spend the savings on upgrades in other positions, fine. However, it appears to me like we let a top 10 full back go so that we could put more money on our pile of unspent money in exchange for a much worse player. I have trouble seeing how that makes us better, irregardless as to whether Vickers is the best pass catcher (Marecic certainly isnt, and he doesnt bring any of the assets Vickers does).

  • Harv 21

    Again, they didn’t keep Vickers because he didn’t fit. He doesn’t have certain basic skills required for the offense they’re trying to develop. It’s not 2010, Mangini is gone and they’re not handing it and throwing it to Peyton Hillis over and over and over again. Given Vicker’s few options in free agency and the small contract he received, many other teams agreed. Marecic being a bust does not make Vickers fit. Having cap space doesn’t require you to fill it on a round peg in a square hole.

    Never seen Browns fans as obsessed about a player who ultimately contributed to as few wins as St. Lawrence. And it’s not like everyone wore a Vickers jersey when he was here. It’s like an obsession for some fans who are sick of an anemic offense and want a boogeyman.

  • mgbode

    I agree with Harv!

  • mgbode

    Shhh….I have a piece of paper and it says to flip it over. Then it says to flip it over on the other side. I’ve been doing this the last 24 hours and I need to concentrate to figure out this puzzle.

  • ICantTakeItAnymore

    So you are saying Marecic is better than Vickers or that Vickers wasnt enough better than Marecic to justify the pay. I disagree. I think Vickers was and is way better than Marecic, and its not even close. Marecic wouldnt even make the roster of about half the teams, nor does he fit the WCO offense any better than Vickers because he cant catch any better and in fact, i feel he catches worse. I am not obsessed with Vickers, i just think that teams get better position by position and that Marecic was a big step down from Vickers and we have plenty of cap space to pay him. The only way you can justify letting go of Vickers to replace with worse player is if you need the saving elsewhere. The browns dont. We did not get better by that move. In fact we got worse. Again, I dont see how letting go of a better player for a worse player when you dont intend to spend the savings makes you better. This whole WCO offense blah blah blah is BS because Marecic is the same type of player, just worse. The only way to justify this is to argue that Marecic is as good or better or that we needed to make cap space. Neither is true, so I cant understand how you can argue you get better by replacing a good player with a bad player when you dont need the savings.

  • mgbode

    no, what he was saying was that the pursuit of a WCO FB was better than keeping Vickers. Marecic doesn’t really enter the discussion except that we are currently stuck with him (until the coaches are comfortable with Smelley at least).

  • Max R

    LOL TD, when they kicked the extra point – i looked at Stacey and said – that will do it , guaranteed we lose 17-16.

  • TobaccoRoad

    How about Greg Little’s 1st quarter dropped pass on the PHI 3-yard line, which led directly to a Philly INT? We were in a situation where we were guaranteed 3 points, with a chance to get 7. In retrospect, that was the deepest we ever got into PHI territory and probably killed any confidence the offense had, on the spot. I honestly think that may have been the biggest play of the game. Early in the game, yes, but an extremely costly mistake in what ended up as a 1-point game. No NFL offense can afford to give points away like that, and most certainly not this offense.