The winless Cleveland Browns took a trip down to Nashville, Tennessee; they’ll head back home today with the same number of wins in spite of a late frenzy. The Titans secured their first win at Nissan Stadium this season as they rode on the back of a stellar performance from quarterback Marcus Mariota. His performance was likely aided by the Browns’ difficulties defending the pass, but Mariota did just about everything you could ask for him to do. Mariota passed for 281 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed seven times for 64 yards. The lone blemish on the young signal caller’s day was an interception thrown to Tramon Williams in the third quarter.
For his part, quarterback Cody Kessler put up the best game of his rookie season. On a day when the Titans sold out to stop the run, Kessler took on the challenge and passed the ball very well. He threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns while committing zero turnovers. Kessler and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor continued their excellent chemistry in the red zone, with Pryor hauling in a pair of beautifully thrown fade passes from Kessler.
The difference in the first half seemed to be the Titans’ ability to finish drives with touchdowns whereas the Browns were forced to settle for two field goals. Kicker Cody Parkey continued to kick accurately since his 3-for-6 kicking performance against the Dolphins in the third week. He is 4-for-4 in field goal attempts since then. With close to four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Kessler went to work and led the Browns on a 94-yard drive culminating in the first Terrelle Pryor touchdown. The halftime score was 14-13 with the Titans leading.
The second half began with the Browns going three-and-out. The Titans responded with a 70-yard drive that ended in a DeMarco Murray touchdown run from the three-yard line, putting the score at 21-13. Another touchdown in the fourth quarter, a fifteen-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to tight end Anthony Fasano, pushed the score to 28-13.
Cody Kessler led the Browns on a late drive in the fourth quarter, ultimately connecting with Terrelle Pryor for a five-yard touchdown pass. Hue Jackson decided to go for the two-point conversion, and the pass to Ricardo Louis fell incomplete. This is the point in the game when seemingly every Browns fan and beat reporter lost their mind on Twitter.
I saw too many intelligent people claiming that Hue Jackson had “screwed up” the Browns’ chance at a win. This simply is not true. When a team is down by fifteen points near the end of the game, they need to score two touchdowns, a one point conversion, and a two point conversion if they wish to tie the game. If they wish to win the game in regulation, the team must be successful in their first two-point conversion and then try for another two-point conversion. So, if Hue Jackson only has aspirations for a tie in regulation, it simply doesn’t matter at what point he goes for the two point conversion when his team is down by fifteen. Would it have made the final two minutes of the game more fun to go for the one point conversion and make it, knowing in hindsight that the Browns were able to recover an onside kick and have a shot at another touchdown? Sure. If you need an apology from Hue Jackson and you don’t believe that a team should take the strategy of trying to win the game on the road in regulation, then yes you could potentially get an apology for the final two minutes of the game being less interesting than they otherwise could have been. You probably aren’t even owed that much, though.
With the Browns now down by two scores, they recovered Cody Parkey’s onside kick and began another drive towards the end zone. The drive was highlighted by a 28-yard pass from Cody Kessler to Duke Johnson. Johnson later ran in the touchdown from the one-yard line. The successful one point conversion pushed the score to 26-28.
The next onside kick attempt from Cody Parkey bounced out of bounds, and the game was effectively over.
Cody Kessler put together a gritty and impressive performance in the loss. Cameron Erving returned from injury to man his usual starting center spot, and he seemed determined to let every player on the Titans defense have a free run at Kessler. On multiple occasions, Erving failed to properly read a stunt maneuver from the Titans ending with a couple of big hits on the Browns’ rookie quarterback. In spite of the hits, Kessler just kept making plays. He ended the day with his best statistical performance of the year, and I think it’s fair to say that Browns fans are appreciative of the effort he is giving on the field in spite of the losses.
With the rash of injuries that have hit this team, it’s amazing that the young backups were able to put together a game like this on the road. If you are watching this Browns team and your only goal each week is to see them win, then I’m not sure why you are bothering to watch. Wins were always going to be rare this season. However, if you are watching the games with an eye towards the future, I think there were several positive things to take with you. Cody Kessler has played as well as you can ask a rookie to play. Terrelle Pryor looks like a perennial Pro Bowl receiver. Danny Shelton is rounding into one of the best nose tackles in the NFL. Duke Johnson is proving himself to be a dynamic weapon in his second season.
If you can see past the losses, there are some good things happening in Berea.