The dropped passes. The turnovers. The penalties.The injuries. The coaching. The really, really bad officiating.
There are so many things that can be blamed for the Cleveland Browns losing yet another game in FirstEnergy Stadium this past Sunday. Those things can be fixed, but already six games into a 16-game regular season, there’s only so much time left to fix those self-inflicted mistakes.
While plenty of those self-inflicted wounds took place yet again Sunday afternoon on the shores of Lake Erie, one thing that can’t (and absolutely shouldn’t) go overlooked is what took place at the end of the first half.
With the Browns holding a 20-12 lead, Baker Mayfield and the offense were set to get the ball back on their own 20-yard line with 5:02 left in the half after the Seahawks’ Michael Dickson punt landed in the endzone for a touchback. With Cleveland holding an eight-point lead, their main objective should have been to not give Seattle the ball back before the end of the first half. It would be an added bonus of the Browns were able to march down the field and put some points on the board, widening the gap to a two-possession game at halftime. With Seattle only having one timeout remaining, the last thing that the Browns should have been looking to do was to give the ball back to Russell Wilson, the quarterback that many believe is the frontrunner to be the league’s MVP six weeks into the season.
The drive started about as good as it could for the orange and brown. Mayfield connected with Odell Beckham Jr. for a 41-yard gain on what was an incredible catch by OBJ. Just like that, the Browns were near field goal range with just under five minutes left in the second quarter. The next six plays netted 27 yards, including two third-down conversions, putting the Browns on the 12-yard line at the two-minute warning.
It seemed to be a perfect ending to the first half. Seattle still had just one timeout left while Cleveland had all three of theirs and the offense was set to get at the very worst three points from an easy, chip-shot field goal. At the very worst, they could have ran the ball three straight times, leaning on Nick Chubb — the best player on the offense so far this season — to either get the ball in the end zone, or at the very least, kick a field goal and give Seattle the ball back with less than 30 seconds left due to the Seahawks only being able to stop the clock once.
Freddie had other plans. On the first play, Chubb ran for two yards. Then, rather than waste much of the 40-second play clock simply because there was still plenty of time left and having three timeouts in their pocket, the Browns went no-huddle and ran their second-down play just 24 seconds later. Rather than leaning on the dominant running back yet again, Freddie decided to lean on Mayfield. It led to Baker throwing an interception, one that gave Seattle the ball back on their own 12-yard line with 1:28 remaining in the second quarter.
Wilson and company then drove down and scored a touchdown to cap off an eight-play, 88-yard drive. While they missed the extra point, it was still a gut punch. Rather than the Browns heading into the halftime locker room leading 20-12, 23-12, or even 27-12, it was 20-18 and Seattle was set to get the ball to begin the second half. Not only that, but all that momentum both for the Browns and their fans was gone.
There are so many things you can question here, I’ll just mention a couple:
Following the game, Freddie was questioned about this entire sequence and rightfully so.
“I would admit that we need to make a better play call, make a better throw, run a better route. I would admit all of that, but that is all,” Kitchens said. “Every situation is different.
“I will always be aggressive. I am going to ask our team to be aggressive so their coach should be aggressive always. I had total confidence that we would score, and I had total confidence in our defense to go out and stop them. It is always second-guessed. I understand that. I accept that I would expect you to ask that question, Tony, but you just expect the answer you are getting in return.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love the aggressiveness, especially when you have playmakers like Chubb, OBJ, and Jarvis Landry on the field. But there’s a time and place to use that aggressiveness, especially in the red zone with the clock on your side near the end of the first half. When you add in Baker’s struggles in the red zone (and just overall) so far this season and pair it with Chubb’s dominance thus far, there’s no reason to not run the ball all three plays to essentially end the half. The worst thing that happens is you get a field goal; the best-case scenario is that you score a touchdown and take a 15-point lead.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s clear that Freddie’s decision to be aggressive at the end of the first half rather than just take a two-possession lead into the locker room not only cost the Browns but was a momentum-changing sequence that Cleveland could just never really recover from. It took the crowd out of the game, it gave the Seahawks plenty of hope heading into the second half, hope that eventually turned into them showing why they only have one loss on the season. While Baker’s hip injury was certainly a key part of the Browns’ downfall in the final two quarters, the Browns netted just 86 yards in the second half after totaling 324 yards in the opening half.
There’s plenty of things that took place and a number of players (and coaches) that can shoulder plenty of the blame for the loss, but Freddie is (and should be) having regrets once again. Regrets aren’t fun. It’s time for Kitchens to do things right in the first place rather than second-guess himself and apologize for his mistakes after the fact when it’s already too late.
After each of the four losses, Freddie has continued to state that he must get better. While the players clearly can do so as well, the head coach shoulders much of the blame and continues to say all of the right things much of the time. Now, it’s time to actually make those changes and adjustments. If the Browns want to be successful this season, that must take place. There’s still plenty of season left to make up for all the misfortunes and bad play during the first six games, but the Dawg Pound can only be patient for so long, especially when the expectations were sky high prior to the season.