Diagnosing the Browns

After the Browns’ loss to the Jaguars last Sunday, almost every Browns analyst, writer, and fan agreed on the team’s problem. The Browns just need a decent quarterback. (Mind you, if you ask most Browns analysts, writers, and especially fans, this has been the Browns’ biggest problem since the end of the Kosar Era. Never mind that Tim Couch could have been a great quarterback, but the Browns destroyed his career because they didn’t have an offensive line. But sure, let’s all keep humming the Cleveland mantra… QUARTERBACK… QUARTERBACK….)

So of course, as soon as the game against the Jags ended, the Cleveland chorus resumed: The Browns just need a decent quarterback. “See?” asked the articles I read, the radio programs I listened to, and the fans I spoke with—in support of their ceaseless pleading for passable passing. It’s so obvious right? Everyone seemed to think that the Browns had played a pretty great game of football and were just undone during the final two minutes of the first half, when Weeden threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Indeed, if the Browns could just have those two minutes of horrible quarterbacking back, the outcome would have been totally different. See? If the Browns just had a decent quarterback…

But that is too easy. It ignores too much. It ignores the solid run performance Maurice Jones-Drew had (and should not have had) against the Browns defense. It ignores the horrible snap by (arguably) the league’s best center, Alex Mack. It ignores Joe Haden’s botched coverage of Cecil Shorts’ game winning touchdown catch. It ignores a lot of things…

But that’s fine. Because now, after this week’s loss to the Patriots, we can finally have a real talk about the Browns’ problem. We have (hopefully?) learned that we cannot blame the quarterback for everything. Because the Browns lost yesterday, and Weeden didn’t play. Campbell did. And he played well.

Campbell completed 29 of 44 passes to nine different receivers for 391 yards and three touchdowns. He also scrambled twice for 27 yards and two first downs. He did not give up a single turnover, and he posted a passer rating of 116.8. He also handled pressure extremely well, completing 9 of 13 passes and throwing for 215 yards and all three touchdowns on plays when the Patriots filled the box with five or more defensive players. He was only sacked once.

So what now? The Browns had a decent quarterback yesterday. In fact, Campbell was more than decent. He was downright good. And they still lost. So who is to blame? What is the problem?

The refs, of course! They were the problem! The officiating was terrible! And thus, the same Browns analysts, writers, and especially fans, turned their blaming sights from Weeden to the referees. The unnecessary roughness call on Poyer! The pass interference call on Leon McFadden!

But so what? I’ll admit that these calls were suspect. I’ll even admit that the pass interference call was downright crap. But we need to listen to Chud. (He is easily the best coach we’ve had in a long time, and has proven time and time again that he deserves our trust.) He said after the game that the Browns couldn’t blame the loss on the refs. And he’s right. Liking blaming Weeden for the loss against the Jaguars, blaming the refs for the loss against the Patriots is too easy and ignores one critical thing:

The Cleveland Browns aren’t clutch.

And that is what separates the Browns from the truly great teams in the NFL. That is why the Browns lose.

Twice in the first half the Browns offense marched up the field only to settle for a field goal. Despite decent offensive play, the Browns were not able to record a touchdown in the first half. The Browns offense looked way better than the Patriots offense. Tom Brady completed the same number of passes in the first half as he threw interceptions: one. But it didn’t seem to matter. The Browns offense couldn’t capitalize on the defense’s dominance in the first half and went into the locker room at the half only up by six.

Then, in the second half, the Browns’ defense—which had played beautiful, clinical football throughout the first half—couldn’t hold up. The Browns offense scored three touchdowns in the second half, but AGAIN it didn’t seem to matter. With just 2:39 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Browns defense allowed Brady to be the Brady he hadn’t been all day, and in 11 plays he marched the Patriots offense up the field 82 yards and into the endzone. It was now a one-score game.

At this point in my Browns game viewing experience, a guy at the bar (a Browns fan!) had the audacity to look at me and say, “Hey, it’s okay. We just need to recover the kick, and we’ll win.” Which of course, given the Browns history of being the Browns, meant that we would do no such thing. So of course, the Pats go for the onside kick, Fozzy Whittaker accidentally touches the ball, the Patriots recover, then pass, pass interference, and pass… and the Patriots win!

And all of this sounds about right to me. Because the Cleveland Browns aren’t clutch.

Tom Brady is clutch. Despite an abysmal first half, Brady still managed to pass for 418 yards. This shouldn’t be a surprise. According to Patriots.com, Tom Brady has thrown for over 200 yards in the second half in the last three games, and threw for 323 yards in the second half yesterday. In those same three games, Brady is 67 for 89 (a 75% completion percentage) for 849 yards, 6 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 127.5 average passer rating in the second half.

That is clutch.

So, do the Browns need a better quarterback? Yes. And do the refs need to do a better job of making calls? Yes. And will all these things contribute to the Browns winning more football games? Yes. But really, it would be so nice, if every once in awhile, the Browns could just be clutch.

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