Congratulations Cleveland Browns, you’re now on the clock.
You shouldn’t be, mind you. One would think playing the Pittsburgh Steelers’ scrubs would be a great opportunity to end the 2016 campaign with a win. This plus coming off last week’s improbable first victory of the year should’ve created some momentum to end the worst season of football Cleveland has seen since the team returned in 1999.
But no. The Browns were given an opportunity to conclude an awful year on a high note, and they kindly declined.
How else could you sum up the eyesore that was today’s 27-24 overtime loss?
The Browns, fresh off their first taste of victory since December 13, 2015, headed to Pittsburgh to take on a playoff-bound Steeler team. Since they had meaningful January games to worry about, the Steelers decided to rest marquee players like Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell.
Essentially, Pittsburgh treated the Browns like their kid brother once again, saying “Oh Cleveland, we’ve got playoff games to consider. Here, we’ll sit all our good players and let you feel good about your second win of the season.”
The Browns responded by doing everything in their power to prevent Pittsburgh’s backups from losing.
Somehow, despite spotting themselves a 14-0 lead, despite facing Landry Jones instead of their arch-nemesis Roethlisberger, despite taking on a team which was merely playing out the string so it could start focusing on games that matter, the Browns found a way to lose. Turns out last week’s inexplicable victory was simply an exception to the rule, not a sign of things to come.
How, you might ask, did Cleveland end up embarrassing itself despite such favorable odds to do anything but? The answers to that head-scratcher are simple, yet hardly surprising.
For one, it’s pretty tough to win a game against anyone, especially Pittsburgh’s scout team, when you shoot yourself in the foot an astoundingly high amount of times. The Browns tallied a whopping four turnovers on the day, two of which completely changed the outcome of the game.
Cleveland appeared to land a solid blow in the third quarter when cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun picked off Jones and ran the ball down the field. However, what appeared to be a pick-six turned into a fumble at the goal-line which Pittsburgh recovered. In typical Browns fashion, they responded by letting the Steelers waltz all the way down the field and tie the game at 14.
Later, Cleveland once again appeared to be taking control. With just over a minute left in the game, quarterback Robert Griffin III hit Terrelle Pryor for a 43-yard gain. Setting themselves up at Pittsburgh’s five-yard-line, it sure seemed like the Browns might grab a touchdown to seal the game. Instead, running back Isaiah Crowell fumbled on the ensuing play, essentially ending regulation.
Of course, the players can’t take all the blame for today’s pathetic loss. You could just as easily point the finger at the play-calling coming from the sideline.
Yet again, coach Hue Jackson continued to dial up passing plays for Griffin despite a running game which seemed to be working. Outside of his fumble, Crowell put forth an impressive showing, collecting 152 yards on just 19 carries. Still, Jackson decided to let his fresh-out-of-concussion-protocol quarterback make 40 passing attempts.
There was also a golden opportunity to win the game that Jackson instead wasted in overtime. Cleveland’s offense came out of the gate humming, driving all the way to the two-yard line. However, for some inexplicable reason, the Browns ran two straight passing plays, once which lost 14 yards. As a result, Cleveland kicked a field goal and left the door wide open for the Steelers to win.
Unlike the Browns, when Pittsburgh was given a chance to grab a victory, it decided to cash in.
So, congratulations Cleveland, you’ve landed yourself the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. As exciting as that may be, never forget it was earned by having an absolutely disgraceful season end with a loss to your one-time rival’s practice squad. By letting Landry Jones end the day with a 103.1 quarterback rating. By handing the Steelers turnover after turnover until they had no choice but to win the game.
Some may see the top overall pick as the best possible result of today’s game. I respectfully disagree. The best thing to come from this Sunday’s loss was bringing an unwatchable season of Browns football to an all-too-appropriate finale.