It seemed like a miracle. On the road, against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Cleveland Browns had a 14-0 and then 17-7 lead by the top of the second quarter. Could they, would they, finally notch their first win of the season against one of the more difficult opponents on their schedule this season?
No. They wouldn't.
Instead, the Browns dropped to 0-5 on the season and have lost their last 11 games straight, and unlike the previous four weeks, once they were out of this game, they were out for good.
That 17-7 lead? It became a 27-17 deficit by the time the first half closed, and the Browns never again neared coming from behind and overtaking the Giants from that point on—they lost 41-27.
The real punishment came in the second quarter. After a Phil Dawson field goal to start it off, the Giants went on a four-possession scoring tear, with two touchdowns and two field goals before the end of the half. Cleveland never recovered, while the Giants just kept scoring.
The Giants put up five touchdowns and two field goals in the game, punting only twice. Anything they wanted to do on offense, either running the ball or passing it, seemed to come with little resistance from the Browns defense.
New York ran the ball 34 times for 243 yards and two scores, with 30 of those carries, one score and 200 of those yards (yes, 200) belonging to running back Ahmad Bradshaw. On top of it, Giants quarterback Eli Manning went 25-of-37 for 259 yards, three touchdowns and one interception and was sacked not once. Even worse, the Browns lost the services of linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a concussion and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin to a leg injury.
Browns cornerbacks Dimitri Patterson, Buster Skrine, Sheldon Brown and Trevin Wade were all outmatched by the Giants receivers despite Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden sidelined with injuries.
Not helping matters, Patterson left the game with an ankle injury (he was seen in a walking boot and on crutches in the locker room), leaving the three relatively untested corners left with the task of stopping Manning and his receivers, and they simply couldn't handle it.
Cleveland's offense didn't hold up their end of the deal, either. While less disappointing than their defensive counterparts, more ill-timed errors on the part of quarterback Brandon Weeden and his receivers didn't do much help in keeping the game close.
Weeden ended the day completing 22 of his 35 passes for 291 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions (and, notably no sacks—Cleveland's offensive line was particularly strong against the Giants' vaunted front seven). Both scores were thrown to rookie receiver Josh Gordon, including an early 62-yard strike.
Gordon was the preferred target over the disappointing Greg Little, who had two targets and zero catches and may find himself benched next week if Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin both return from their hamstring injuries. Jordan Norwood was also particularly reliable this week, with nine catches on nine targets, for 81 yards.
Running back Trent Richardson continued to impress, with 81 yards and a score on 17 rushes (a 4.8 yards-per-carry average) as well as five receptions for 47 more yards. More reliance on Richardson would have helped the Browns offense, but when playing from so far behind, the Browns had to scrap carries in favor of the pass.
Weeden continues to shoulder his share of blame for the Browns' disappointing 0-5 start, and he hasn't been anywhere close to flawless. But this week, it was Cleveland's defense that cost them the game. Cleveland's offense had the ball for just 24:36; New York's for 35:24 and the result was 375 total yards for the Browns and 502 for the Giants.
If it's not one thing for the Browns, it's something. One week, Cleveland's defense looks worthy of being compared to some of the best in the league, while the next, they look like an even worse unit than they were last year. Last week, Cleveland's receivers couldn't catch the passes that mattered, and this week, they simply couldn't keep pace with their seemingly-unstoppable Giants counterparts.
At this point, at 0-5, the Browns' season has gotten away from them. They simply need a win, just one win, to reign it in and find something to build on. So far this year, we've seen impressive performances from Cleveland in all phases of the game, just not at the same time in the same week. The comfort that provides keeps getting colder and colder.