The Browns had what seemed to be a comfortable 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter but faltered in the end, prompting disgruntled Browns fans to once again lament that no lead is ever safe for their team.
Despite the loss, this game had a lot of positives. The offense came out swinging early, Seneca Wallace had a solid performance in his first start of the year, Peyton Hillis looked like the Hillis of old and the defense kept Arizona's big playmakers in check.
Well, that was true for the first three quarters anyway.
The fourth-quarter meltdown was disappointing, but even more bothersome was that no matter how well the Browns played or for how long, this one still ended up in the loss column.
Many thought this was the last winnable game of the year for the Browns, and with the overtime loss, now feel that the Browns are destined to finish the season at 4-12.
Following are five things we learned in the Browns loss to the Cardinals.
Whether it's about the first quarter or the fourth, every single week, we all seem to be stuck learning the same lesson over and over again—the Browns are good for three quarters of football a week at most.
Earlier in the season, the Browns struggled to score or stop opponents from scoring early, and the first-quarter sluggishness was always the issue. Lately, the Browns have been a bit better out of the gate, but have repeatedly faltered in the fourth quarter, losing their grip on close games as the clock winds down.
The Browns had a 10-point lead going into the fourth. Not exactly a cushy margin, but enough to lull Browns fans into a false sense of security that the team could hang on for the win.
Turns out it was the Browns themselves who were lulled into a false sense of security, as they were burned for 10 points in the fourth, allowing Arizona to tie the game and send it to overtime, where they would eventually win by a field goal.
Sadly, this fourth-quarter fatigue issue that has plagued the Browns of late probably wouldn't be quite so costly if it was only the offense or only the defense that fell victim to it. But just as was the case when the Browns had their problems early on in games in the first quarter, it seems that the team always tends to fall apart on both sides of the ball at the same time.
For all those hoping that the Browns troubled offensive line would somehow magically perform better when protecting a different quarterback than the regular starter Colt McCoy, it was a disappointing afternoon.
Though we did see decent blocking at times, unfortunately, the o-line ultimately threw Seneca Wallace to the same wolves who feed on Colt McCoy every week.
Wallace fared better for most of the game despite poor protection than McCoy typically does because he's so capable of using his legs to help him, but in the end, it didn't matter. Wallace couldn't scramble his way out of the back-to-back sacks that his line allowed in the fourth, and that was pretty much the end of him, and thus, the end of the Browns' hopes of scoring any more points.
But while he couldn't bring home a win, you have to give Wallace credit for a pretty respectable performance despite a terrible situation.
Wallace was walking into a mess: angry fans, no line protection and error-prone receivers. Not to mention that no matter how much you prepare as a player, when you see virtually no actual in-game action for the better part of a year, you're bound to be rusty.
But as it turned out, Wallace actually did a really nice job. He certainly didn't do anything spectacular, but I think he did a heckuva job under the circumstances. He was pretty solid technically, and it was clear his teammates were pleased as well, given the many comments about both his performance and his leadership after the game.
Whether you think it was a fluke or a sign that he's finally recovered, either way, it sure was nice to see Peyton Hilils run like he was, well, Peyton Hillis.
Peyton Hillis 2.0 finally reminded us of the 2010 edition of Hillis, rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown and producing the kind of dominant rushing performance that was the bread and butter of the Browns offense last year.
Ninety-nine yards is far from Hillis' best career total, but after the maddening (pun intended) 40 or 50-yard rushing totals we've seen this season for the Browns, it was a very welcome, very solid improvement.
As for whether it was a fluke, I suppose it's possible, but I'm guessing Hillis will continue to turn it on in the final two games of the season. Granted, he'll face far better defenses in Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the next two weeks, but I still expect Hillis will finish the season strong.
He is, of course, playing for a contract, so it's especially important for him to get his numbers up going into free agency. And despite rumors to the contrary, I also still believe Hillis will do his best to finish strong for the sake of the team and the fans.
The Browns defense fell victim to yet another familiar pattern on Sunday against the Cardinals, but it wasn't the one that you'd guess.
The most prominent issue for the Browns on defense has of course been stopping the run, but that wasn't really the issue this time around. Cleveland did a surprisingly good job containing RB Beanie Wells, holding him to just 51 yards total.
It was disappointing that they gave up a late touchdown to him (and one that ultimately proved to be their undoing), but in terms of the totals, they still did a respectable job keeping the yardage totals of a standout running back relatively low.
So it wasn't really about getting mowed down by opposing rushers this week. No, the familiar defensive issue that killed the Browns on Sunday was their problem with being burned by big plays.
This problem has existed all season and was particularly notable in the Tennessee game and both Cincinnati games. And it happened again this week, thanks to perfectly-timed big gain plays by Larry Fitzgerald in the fourth to set up the Wells touchdown and by returner Patrick Peterson in overtime to set up the winning field goal.
Through the first three quarters, the Browns defense gave the Cardinals virtually nothing. Their big playmakers Fitzgerald and Wells were largely shut down. But as all football fans and especially those who follow the 2011 Browns know, it only takes one or two big plays late in the game to erase three quarters of solid defense.
The misery continued yesterday for the Browns special teams unit, which once again let down the team in a critical situation and contributed heavily to the loss.
Sadly, it seems like every week, the Browns special teams unit invents a new way to screw up. Whether it's a botched field goal snap or a bad punt or inability to take down an opposing returner, it seems like it's always something.
This time around, it was an issue with an opposing returner. Return standout Patrick Peterson was held in check by the Browns special teams for the majority of the game. But then in overtime, he essentially faked a fair catch on a punt, returned the ball 32 yards and gave the Cardinals excellent field position, making it easy for them to get into field goal range.
The timing of the return was about as unfortunate as they come. A 32-yard return in regulation is of course never something you want to cede to an opponent, but in overtime, it's absolutely devastating.
In regulation, you're generally going for the end zone, and a 32-yard return doesn't guarantee you'll get there. In overtime, however, all you need to do is get into field goal range, and a 32-yard return makes it pretty certain you'll get there.
Give Peterson some credit; the fake fair catch was kind of brilliant. But still, the Browns shouldn't have been fooled, or at least they should have been able to recover and bring Peterson down before he made it 32 yards down the field.