I had this weird feeling on Sunday that the Cleveland Browns were going to win. I almost never have this feeling, for obvious reasons, so it was noticeable. Things just seemed lined up. The Browns were playing the Los Angeles Chargers in LA where nobody cares about them. The Chargers needed to win the game in order to pull into an improbable three-way tie in the AFC West and such pressure often plays havoc with a mediocre team’s mindset. The Chargers had to scoop up a kicker off their practice squad this week, and he missed a 38-yard field goal right off the bat. so that seemed like it would play a part in the story too.
And, mostly, the Chargers are just the sort of team that loses to the Browns. That’s what they did last year. The Chargers just seem perpetually doomed.The Browns have not beaten a non-Chargers team since December 13, 2015 when they beat a terrible 49ers team. The Browns have not beaten a non-California team since October 11, 2015 when they toppled a terrible Baltimore team in overtime.
Just to keep this going: The Browns have not beaten a team with a winning record since — are you ready for this — they beat the Cincinnati Bengals on November 6, 2014, more than three years ago. The Browns quarterback was, no kidding, Brian Hoyer. The Browns have started EIGHT DIFFERENT QUARTERBACKS since their last victory over a team a with a winning record.
Yeah, I have no idea WHY I thought the Browns were going to beat the Chargers on Sunday.
But I did. All game long, I just had this feeling. The Chargers offense moved up and down the field freely but they kept settling for field goals. That seemed a sign. The Browns returned Josh Gordon, their freakishly talented and troubled wide receiver. That seemed a sign. Los Angeles (man, it’s weird to call the Chargers “Los Angeles”) had the game in control pretty much throughout but the Chargers never seemed to be leading by quite as much as you would have thought. That seemed a sign too. As a Browns fan, you seek out those games when the opponent SHOULD BE leading by two touchdowns but ACTUALLY leads by six or nine or something more manageable.
The Browns did not win. They did not threaten to win. And I’m reminded again that this team has a gift.
These Browns are the best team I’ve ever seen at losing.
Now, you can say that the 0-16 Lions or those early John McKay Tampa Bay Bucs were great at losing, and they were. But here’s the thing: Those teams were badly overmatched. They had no talent whatsoever and week after week they were simply overwhelmed. Those 2008 Lions were outscored by more than two touchdowns, on average, and as the year went on the talent gap increased. They were outscored by 18 or more six times that season. The 1976 Buccaneers were outscored by an average three touchdowns per game and were shut out in five of their 14 games. They were outscored by 18 or more nine times.
These Browns have a little bit of talent. They have been outscored by 18 or more points only one time all year. Admittedly, that’s a cherry-picked number — the Browns have been outscored by 17 and 16 — but even with that, Cleveland has been in all but a couple of games in the fourth quarter. I use the phrase “in games” loosely, but a normal team that is within a score or so in the fourth quarter would consider itself “in the game.” These Browns have outgained opponents six times in 12 losses. They have had quote-unquote chances to win most of their games this year. And yet they have not come especially close to winning any of them, even the overtime loss to Tennessee. This is their talent. We know of professional hitmen, professional hitters, professional chefs. The Browns are professional losers.
* * *
It seems silly to discuss actual strategy considering that the Browns did not come close to beating the Chargers but with 12 or so minutes left in the game, the Browns trailed by 12 points and drove fairly deep into San Diego territory. They had first and 10 from the Chargers 17, at which point DeShone Kizer threw three incomplete passes in a row because this is what he does. Kizer has completed an astonishing 26.4% of his passes in the red zone. He’s not alone at this level of red zone stinkiosity — Tom Savage and Jacoby Brissett are right there with him — but he’s the only one at this level who anyone is (with a straight face) calling “The quarterback of the future.”
*MIke Schur, who you might recall promised to become a Browns fan and then reneged about 12 seconds later, actually watched a little bit of Sunday’s game, the first time all year he’s watched Cleveland play. He sent me this text: “Has Kizer been this bad all year? Because he is not a pro QB.”
Anyway, fourth and 10 from the 17, twelve minutes left, down 19-7.
The Browns kicked the field goal. Sure they did.
Now, look, I won’t play dumb: I know why they kicked it. By kicking the field goal the Browns went from needing two touchdowns to win to needing a touchdown and a field goal to win. I guess you could argue that’s better. Plus fourth down and 10 is a longshot play for even a good team and a no shot at all play for DeShone Kizer’s Cleveland Browns. So, sure, I can explain why they kicked.
Still … kicking that field goal in that situation perfectly describes the Browns’ unique talent for losing games professionally. The Browns came into this game 0-11. Their coach came into this game 1-26. How bad do things have to get for the team to actually try and win the game? Kicking that field goal all but guaranteed a loss. Do you know what that field goal did to the Chargers win percentage?
Before: 97.9% chance of victory.
After: 97.3% chance of victory.
That’s right, that field goal improved the Browns chances of winning by less than one percent. Good math! It was a losing play made by a losing team with a losing administration and a losing coach … and at a time when all of them should have nothing to lose. What were they worried about? That they would miss the playoffs? Heck, they have next year’s first pick all but wrapped up — every other team in the NFL has at least TWO wins.
And let’s say the Browns went for it and failed. So what? How is that significantly worse than kicking the field goal there? Meanwhile, MAKING the first down would actually give the Browns a reasonable chance of making a comeback.
* * *
After the Browns kicked the field goal, a minor-miracle happened — the Browns defense forced the Chargers to punt for the first time all day. The Browns promptly went into a beautifully orchestrated hurry-up offense, moving down the field with lightning speed, and ha ha ha ha ha, no I’m joking, the Browns coughed and wheezed and plodded down the field, huddling between plays, wasting time like it was a snow day home from school.
Eventually — and somewhat improbably — the Browns got the ball down to the Chargers 6 and you know what that means.
Red zone plan!
First, second-year wide receiver Corey Coleman had to commit a holding penalty, which he did splendidly. Corey Coleman, reminder, was the Browns first-round pick last year and the first wide receiver taken. True, he caught exactly zero passes on Sunday but to be fair he did commit this holding penalty. So, you know, win-win.
First and goal from the 15, Kizer threw an incomplete pass intended for Josh Gordon (a nice defensive play), and then he threw an incomplete pass to Corey Coleman (kind of a drop) and then the Browns called timeout because that’s what you do when you’re down nine points with five minutes left in the game. You down want to have too many of those pesky timeouts when you’re trying to make a comeback.
After the timeout, DeShone Kizer dropped back to throw, didn’t find anyone open, and so he just held on the to the ball and held on to the ball and held on to the ball and held on to the ball (the Chargers’ Joey Bosa started to close in on him) and held on to the ball (Bosa got ready to hit him) and held on to the ball (BLAMMO!).The ball came loose. Los Angeles recovered. It was the most predictable ending possible.
Here’s where the television announcers made what I have come to call their “Browment.”
Browment (BROU-mint), n, a thoroughly silly comment national announcers make about bad football teams or players because national announcers have to say mostly nice things, even about bad football teams or players.
Fortunately, this week’s browment was not “The Browns did not quit.” That’s the usual browment, and it’s beyond annoying. But, all credit, they avoided that one this week. Instead, this week’s browment came after the fumble and it went something like this, “Well, that’s a tough break, DeShone Kizer was trying to make a play there.”
He was trying to make a play. First of all, that ridiculous, they’re ALWAYS trying to make a play. But more to the point here, DeShone Kizer by holding on to the ball WAS trying to make a play, sure … if he was back at Notre Dame and they were playing Navy. NFL quarterbacks learn more or less at their first practice that the one sure way not to make a play in this league is to hold on to the football for a half hour. In the NFL trying to make a play means THROWING THE STUPID BALL BEFORE THE GUY HITS YOU FROM BEHIND.
DeShone Kizer hasn’t quite picked that one up yet in Week 10 of his NFL career.
* * *
There’s one more play to discuss even though it had nothing to do with the final score. The Browns got the ball back with 2:08 left, still down by nine, and though they only had about a 1.6% chance of winning if they were a decent NFL team (and a 0.0% chance being the Browns), Kizer did manage to hit Josh Gordon for a 39-yard play against a soft Chargers defense. That moved the ball to the Chargers 28, and if they could score quickly and recover an onside kick and …
With 1:58 left, Kizer dropped back to throw. Nobody was open. So he held on to the ball and held on to the ball and held on to the ball and you know how this will end. The Chargers’ Darius Philon started to chase him down. This time, Kizer saw the defender so, naturally, he threw the ball away to stop the clock and give the Browns …
… no, he didn’t do that.
He just kept on holding on to the ball. He had, no exaggeration, 25 opportunities to throw the ball away. Even as he was getting dragged to the ground, he could have thrown the ball away on his way down. But he didn’t. He just didn’t.
It’s weird that this meaningless play would end up being my breaking point on Kizer, but it is. No quarterback who would hold on to that ball in that situation for no reason at all and take a sack in the final two minutes can ever become a good NFL quarterback.*
*Mike Schur just texted me to ask what quarterbacks the Browns have passed on in the first round, year by year.
In 1999, the Browns had the first pick and took Tim Couch. They passed on Donovan McNabb. So the franchise started off well.
In 2000, the Browns had the first pick again but the best QB to go in the first round (the only one) was Chad Pennington. Of course, a fair quarterback went in the sixth round that year.
In 2001, the Browns had the third pick and took Gerald Warren. Drew Brees went with the first pick in the second round.
In 2002, the Browns took running back William Green with the 16th pick. They didn’t miss anybody.
In 2003, the Browns took Jeff Faine, a center, with the 21st pick, and again they didn’t pass up a good quarterback.
In 2004, the Browns took tight end Kellen Winslow. Five picks later, Pittsburgh took Ben Roethlisberger. Sigh.
In 2005, the Browns used the third pick on Braylon Edwards. There were rumors that if one of the top two quarterbacks dropped to Cleveland, they would take him. One of those quarterbacks dropped to Cleveland and just kept on dropping. It might not have been bad if Cleveland had taken Aaron Rodgers.
In 2006, Cleveland took defensive end Kamerion Wimbley. They didn’t miss a quarterback.
In 2007, Cleveland made their one glorious pick of the decade, taking Joe Thomas with the third pick. The Browns drafted quarterback Brady Quinn with the 22nd pick — trading ahead of KC to make that pick — but he didn’t pan out. There really wasn’t a better option.
In 2008, the Browns did not have a first, second or third round pick. That’s how you build championships.
In 2009, Cleveland took Alex Mack with the 21st pick. They didn’t miss a quarterback.
In 2010, Cleveland used the seventh pick on Joe Haden. No quarterbacks missed.
In 2011, Cleveland took Phil Taylor, a defensive tackle, with the 21st pick. They could have taken Andy Dalton or Colin Kaepernick and done better. Heck, they could STILL take Colin Kaepernick and do better.
In 2012, Cleveland made the colossal blunder of taking Trent Richardson with the third pick. Then with the 22nd pick, they took a quarterback — Brandon Weeden. Not great. Quarterbacks that went later (outside of the first round) included Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins.
In 2013 — and I must admit that seeing these picks all in a row gives me a whole new appreciation for just what a fiasco this organization has been, the Browns took Barkevious Mingo with the sixth pick. There were no quarterbacks to take, however.
In 2014, the Browns had two first round picks! One of them ended up being one of the all-time busts in NFL history, Justin Gilbert. And the other was Johnny Manziel. The fact Johnny Football was the second-worst first round pick for Cleveland that year is a nice touch. Sure, they could have taken Teddy Bridgewater or, better, Derek Carr. But they didn’t.
In 2015, the Browns took nose tackle Danny Shelton, who has developed into a pretty good player, and offensive lineman Cameron Erving, who has not. They really did not pass on a quarterback.
In 2016, the Browns traded out of the second pick rather than take Carson Wentz. Later, they took Cody Kessler instead of Zak Prescott.
In 2017, the Browns traded out of the 16th pick rather than take Deshaun Watson. Later, they took DeShone Kizer, and we’re all caught up.
Anyway, after Kizer took that pointless sack that ran 30 seconds off the clock, he tried to throw the ball into triple coverage and had his pass intercepted. Professional losers.