The Cleveland Browns fought tough but fell to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, 23-17. Close, but no cigar.
It would be hard to argue that Jason Campbell being named the starting quarterback didn’t give the Browns a shot of life. It would also be hard to argue that wide receiver Davone Bess and left tackle Joe Thomas didn’t give the team the kiss of death.
Despite Campbell’s valiant performance, the Browns' inconsistencies as a young team were ultimately their downfall.
The Browns are now 3-5 on the year and have lost three straight games. They will head back home to face the Baltimore Ravens before getting their much-needed bye week.
Before they move ahead, however, let’s look back at the Browns' loss Sunday. Here are some takeaways from a game the Browns could have and should have stolen in Kansas City.
We will get to the positives from Sunday. We have to start with the two biggest negatives, though.
Davone Bess had his worst game as a professional. He dropped three passes and fumbled a punt that would have given the Browns possession of the football around midfield down three points in the fourth quarter.
He also dropped a last-second desperation pass from Jason Campbell on fourth down with two minutes to play in the game. They were down just three points at that time as well.
What was not as noticed, however, was the poor game that Joe Thomas had. He committed three penalties. Two were holds that negated big plays, and the third was an offsides penalty with the game on the line.
He is a perennial Pro Bowl player, and it is tough to criticize him, but he certainly wasn’t playing at a Pro Bowl level in this contest.
Most people felt that starting Jason Campbell would be an upgrade over Brandon Weeden, but no one could have seen this performance coming.
Campbell was 22-of-36 for 293 yards and two touchdowns. He threw with precision, made quick reads and did not panic under pressure.
Playing against the best pass rush in the NFL, Campbell was composed and only allowed the Chiefs to sack him one time. The big question now is, should Rob Chudzinski have started Campbell two weeks ago when Brian Hoyer went down with a season-ending knee injury?
Campbell is what he is. He is not going to reinvent his career in Cleveland. He can, however, be efficient enough to keep the Browns competitive.
That’s more than anyone can say for Brandon Weeden.
Despite Joe Thomas not having his best day and making a few mental errors, the line played phenomenally.
They were facing a Chiefs team that was the best in the NFL in just about every defensive category.
The most impressive part of their defense is how they rush the passer. Coming into the game against Cleveland, the Chiefs had 35 sacks and were averaging five per game.
The Browns’ offensive line absolutely stifled the Chiefs' pass rush and did a good job of run-blocking in the second half as well.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz needs to be commended for bouncing back from a terrible start to the season. After a few very shaky weeks, he is playing at the level he finished last season.
The key now is consistency. If they continue to protect well week after week, they will once again be recognized as one of the better blocking fronts in the league.
The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday at 4 p.m., and Josh Gordon may have sealed his fate with another huge game Sunday.
One week after saying he was distracted by trade rumors that have swirled throughout the past month, he was a monster, catching five passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.
According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Browns are open to dealing the troubled wide receiver.
If the Browns can get an offer of a first-round draft pick for him, they should pull the trigger. While his talent is immense, so is the risk of losing him for an entire year or possibly even longer if he cannot behave himself this offseason.
He has 32 receptions for 582 yards and three touchdowns in just five games this season. He is worth a first-round pick for someone who wants to win right now.
If the Browns can’t get a first-round pick back in return, however, they should stand pat and hope Gordon matures between now and next year.
Going into Sunday’s game, all the talk nationally was about the Chiefs' defensive line and how dominant it has been.
The Browns wanted to prove they are better.
Despite allowing 21 first-half points, the defense found its footing in the second half and ended up sacking Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith six times. The defense also hit Smith nine times.
Smith looked uncomfortable and did not have time to allow his routes to develop for most of the game.
Most impressive was the fact that they held Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles to just 74 yards on 18 carries. He was a non-factor on the ground and wasn’t able to find room to convert important third downs in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs' offensive line is very good, and the Browns made it look below average on Sunday.
The numbers still didn’t look good when the game ended. The Chiefs' running backs and tight ends combined for 14 receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown.
Most of that was in the first half, though.
Every time the dangerous Jamaal Charles would shift out as a wide receiver, the Browns secondary would switch and play more zone coverage so he wasn’t one-on-one with a linebacker.
Horton also dialed back the blitzes that had exposed the linebackers' lack of coverage ability over the last few weeks. While they still brought pressure, defensive coordinator Ray Horton picked his spots better.
He trusted his defensive line to create pressure on first and second down and then used his blitzes effectively on third downs.
Browns kick and punt returner Travis Benjamin, who has been one of the most explosive special teams players in the NFL this year, left the game with a knee injury and did not return.
The Browns better hope it isn’t serious.
Benjamin was not the full-time kick returner, but he should have been. He had two more returns for 60 yards Sunday and is a threat to score a touchdown every kickoff.
The Browns desperately need him on punts though. Even when he doesn’t break a long return, he forces opponents to punt differently. They won’t try to punt as deep and give him room to dissect the return coverage. So even when he doesn’t return the ball, he is gaining the team yards.
Davone Bess, who stepped in as Benjamin’s replacement, had two punt returns for eight yards and muffed a punt in a pivotal moment in the game.
Get well soon, Travis.
It takes time for young players to become mentally unshakable in the NFL. Even Joe Thomas, who has seen it all, has errors from time to time.
But being mentally consistent is the key to winning on the road in the NFL.
One positive was that the Browns were not intimidated by the raucous environment at Arrowhead Stadium. They made plays and were competitive to the end in a very tough place to play.
One negative was that they still had nine penalties for 70 yards. They should have also had a penalty for having 12 men on the field at one point late in the game.
Disciplined football teams are the ones that steal victories on the road. The Browns need to be more consistent in that department to take the next step in their evolution.