On Sunday the Cleveland Browns went back to being the same old Cleveland Browns. With their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they find themselves in a very familiar position: last place in the AFC North.
It was just two short weeks ago that the playoffs were a real conversation, and things seemed to have turned a corner. Then they played the Cincinnati Bengals and Steelers.
After back-to-back embarrassing disappointments and now quarterback Jason Campbell having a concussion, via Nate Ulrich of The Akron-Beacon Journal, it seems that all hope may be lost for the 2013 season.
The Browns managed to remain relevant through 12 weeks of the NFL season, but like the warm weather in Cleveland, it is their time to gracefully bow out.
Before we read the Browns’ eulogy, let’s take a look back at their 27-11 loss to the Steelers.
I know that mathematically the Browns are still alive in the playoff hunt, and technically they are just one game out of the wild card race. Unfortunately, the words mathematically and technically do not apply to the reality of this situation.
The Browns needed to go at least 2-1 during their three-game stretch of AFC North games. They went 1-2.
There is an off chance they could get hot and still make a run, but it seems highly unlikely. Their starting quarterback Jason Campbell suffered a concussion, and the team may look to sign another quarterback, according to Nate Ulrich of The Akron-Beacon Journal.
Back up quarterback Brandon Weeden has played so poorly this season that he gives very little reason for optimism. He has completed just 52 percent of his passes while throwing six interceptions to his five touchdowns this year. He also has a measly 66.2 quarterback rating.
Brandon Weeden is like a terrible flu that haunts you all winter long. Every time you think he may be gone, he pops back up a week or two later.
He has now appeared in seven games this season and has been greeted with boos the last three times Browns fans have seen him take the field. Sunday was no different as he ran onto the field during a chorus of displeasure from the crowd.
After the game, Weeden said he laughed off the boos, and “they weren’t booing when I threw that touchdown pass,” according to Dustin Fox of 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland. This was in reference to a garbage-time, fourth-quarter touchdown, which meant nothing in the game.
His relationship, what little there was, has soured with the fanbase. This will not be pretty over the final five games of the season.
The Browns entered the week 32nd in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage at 32 percent. They converted just six of 17 attempts on Sunday.
That is 35 percent and would only be good enough for 26th in the league if they averaged that on the season.
The Browns coaching staff spent the bye week trying to figure out why the team could not convert third downs, and it seems it could not find an answer.
The lack of a running game could be a factor, as could erratic quarterback play. No matter what it is, the Browns won't even be close to a competent offense until they figure out that issue.
The Browns entered the game Sunday without starting inside linebacker Craig Robertson who suffered a knee injury against the Bengals. The defensive linebacking corps was already thin.
This Sunday they lost Robertson’s backup Tank Carder to an injury. They also had Jason Campbell and cornerback Buster Skrine leave the game with injuries.
All of these are added on top of wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Armanti Edwards, running back Dion Lewis and outside linebacker Quentin Groves who were all placed on injured reserve at some point this season.
This is the time of year when injuries start to weigh on a team, but the Browns can ill afford to have this many players falling. Their roster is just too thin.
The Browns showed very little intensity against the Steelers. While the defense showed some fight in the first quarter, holding the Steelers to just three points, the offense looked like it was playing its older brother in a game of one-on-one in the driveway.
The Steelers showed more hustle and were more physical than the Browns in every facet of the game.
For all the talk leading up to the game against the Steelers about how the rivalry was back, it sure as heck did not look like it. At some point, you need a legitimate win against your “rival” for there to be a rivalry.
Last season’s win over Pittsburgh was not legitimate. The Steelers fumbled five times and were playing their third-string quarterback.
Cornerback Joe Haden does not have bad games very often, but he did on Sunday. Wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was his main assignment, caught six passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.
In fact, on the Steelers' first touchdown drive, almost every play was made against Haden.
Buster Skrine and Chris Owens struggled as well, allowing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to complete 22 of 34 passes on the afternoon. He was surgical.
While Haden got better as the game progressed, and he and Skrine combined for four passes defended, the Steelers were able to convert on third downs any time they needed a big play.
Safeties T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson also missed a few tackles in the game, which is uncharacteristic of them lately.
Coming into Week 12, the Steelers had allowed the third-most sacks of any offense, 37. Their offensive line has been banged up and has played terrible all year.
The Browns were ninth in the NFL with 31 sacks from their defense. They had played fantastic and dominated teams all season long.
So naturally, the Browns failed to record a sack in the game. In fact, the Browns have not had a sack in the last two games.
The NFL is a crazy league, but it is tough to understand why the Browns could not get to Roethlisberger. He was hit just twice the entire game.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will need to go back to the drawing board and try to find a spark for his pass rush because it has vanished.
Just like last season when the Steelers lost to the Browns because of five fumbles, the Browns returned the favor on Sunday.
Turning the ball over four times is the perfect recipe for disaster. They lost three fumbles and threw an interception.
The biggest turnover of the game happened in the second quarter. The Browns were driving near midfield, and running back Chris Ogbonnaya coughed up the ball.
This gave the Steelers the football at their own 46-yard line with 1:43 seconds to play in the half. They marched downfield and kicked a field goal before halftime.
Instead of having a tie game or trailing by just a touchdown, the Browns went into halftime down 10 points, and the momentum completely swung the Steelers' way.