It felt as though Cleveland Browns fans knew their fourth-quarter lead was never safe in the team’s 38-31 loss to the Chicago Bears. Why would they? They had seen the Browns blow leads the two previous weeks.
Like a destiny written in the stars, the Browns did blow the lead and once again find themselves losers of double-digit games in a season. That has happened 12 of the last 15 years in Cleveland.
There were small positives to be taken away from the loss, but more than that, there were things that became clearer. Some players established that they are ready for the big time, some established that they have some growing to do and others showed that they will always be who they are.
Here are some takeaways from the Browns’ eighth loss in their last nine games and fifth in a row this season.
It is easy to get wrapped up in a few good performances and romanticize a quarterback into “the guy.” Some were trying desperately to do that after quarterback Jason Campbell posted a quarterback rating better than 100 in three of the last five games he played.
Stepping back and taking a look at the bigger pattern, however, shows a quarterback who is wildly inconsistent. This did not just happen overnight, it has been this way his entire career.
In his six starts this season, he has posted a 105 quarterback rating or higher and not turned the ball over three times. The other three times, he has five interceptions and an average quarterback rating of 63.5.
The only thing consistent about his play is that it is not.
When the Browns made the fairly innocuous signing of running back Edwin Baker this week, not many gave it much thought. He had never played in an NFL game, and Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner selected him with a seventh-round draft pick while in San Diego last season.
Kudos to the young man for learning the system and playing his tail off while Willis McGahee is recovering from a concussion. He carried the ball eight times for 38 yards and touchdown.
While those numbers won’t knock your socks off, he did show some burst and vision. He will have to show that same burst and vision against a defense that does not allow 150 rushing yards per game for me to take him seriously, however.
It is almost ironic that Norv Turner selected a running back in last year’s draft at all, because the man seems to be on a mission to help abolish the run from football. Against the NFL’s worst rushing defense, he called just 16 run plays.
Never mind the fact that the Browns were actually having some success when they did try to run the football. And never mind the fact that the Browns were ahead or down by just one score for all but one drive in the football game.
I will give him some credit for getting MarQueis Gray involved and integrating some Wildcat, but he needs to try to use the running game more effectively.
With the amount of yards and success that wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron have had this season, it is easy to forget that they are just 22 and 25 years old, respectively. They are not only young age-wise, but also young on the field.
They are both still learning how to be consistent and impose their will early in football games. Gordon did not seem to want any part of the middle of the football field on Sunday, and it did not help that Campbell was throwing wide all day too.
Cameron was as quiet as a mouse for most of the game. While they combined for six catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, three of those catches that accounted for 60 yards and the touchdown were in garbage time. They need to contribute while the game is still on the line.
If safety T.J. Ward has not made his case to go to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl this year, then I don’t know if he ever will. On Sunday, he was a man possessed. He had nine tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass defended and a fumble recovery he returned for a touchdown.
His coverage skills have grown to the point where tight ends pretty much do not catch the football on him.
He has also remained healthy this season. While he played 14 games in 2012, many of those were with nagging injuries, which slowed down his production. Ward is currently not among the leading vote-getters for the strong safety position.
If the Browns were to lose cornerback Joe Haden for the rest of the season, the pass defense could get ugly. When Haden left the game with a hip injury, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler feasted on the young secondary.
He threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and at times just heaved the ball into the air not worrying about double-coverage. His 45-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery was essentially a Hail Mary. Two Browns defenders mistimed their jump, and Jeffery made a basket catch as he fell into the end zone.
Rookie Leon McFadden is the guy quarterbacks love to pick on. While he has steadily improved this season, he would be saddled with guarding the opposition’s primary target.
After the game, Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski told the Akron-Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich that Haden’s injury was a hip-pointer:
#Browns HC Chud said CB Joe Haden suffered hip pointer injury.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) December 15, 2013
The Browns defense entered the game as the seventh overall ranked unit in the NFL. The Browns had the seventh-best passing defense and the fourth-best rushing defense. Yet somehow, they give up the 19th-most points in the league.
How does this happen? Late-game collapses are how that happens. They have now blown leads in three straight games, including the debacle in New England where they allowed two touchdowns in 61 seconds.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has preached that his defense puts up the statistics every single year, and he is right. Unfortunately, those statistics do not translate into clutch stops. The Browns entered the game 26th in the league on third downs and then allowed the Bears to go 9-of-14 on Sunday.
The Browns have the 10th-most penalized offense and the 14th-most penalized defense. They had nine more penalties for 90 yards on Sunday. This is terrible for a team that does not have a large margin for error in football games.
When you have a young, inconsistent football team, the last thing you can do is shoot yourself in the foot, and the Browns have done that all season long.
On Sunday, they had a drive where they allowed Jay Cutler and the Bears to cover half the football field on two plays, and they did not complete either of the passes. Late in the game, Cutler just started throwing the ball in the air, knowing that even if his guys did not catch it, they would probably draw a penalty.