If you’ve followed me for a while, you know pro-Hue Jackson columns aren’t really my thing. I’ve questioned his decisions, questioned the Cleveland Browns for keeping him on board after he went 0-16 and even claimed the team would have to spend 2018 trying to win in spite of him.
Simply put, if you’re looking for positive Hue Jackson propaganda, I’m not your guy.
So, it’s admittedly weird I find myself taking his side on one of the more controversial moments from this past Sunday’s loss to the Oakland Raiders. It’s a decision he’s still getting critiqued for, but it’s also one which, in my opinion, was the right call.
Needing only to run out the clock to seal a victory, the Browns found themselves facing a fourth and inches deep in their own territory. It sure seemed like they converted on the previous play, but replay review resulted in a reversed call. Up by eight points, Jackson decided against leaning forward to try and convert, instead choosing to punt.
You know what happened after that. The Raiders drove 53 yards in six plays, scoring a touchdown and the game-tying two-point conversion, eventually winning in overtime.
As is often the case after Browns losses, everyone is trying to determine who’s to blame for the result. Many believe this honor goes to Jackson for refusing to run a QB sneak in attempts to get a first down and milk the rest of the clock.
Even though I’ve critiqued Jackson many times since he arrived in Cleveland, I find I can’t do so when it comes to this call.
I’m aware the odds favored the Browns converting on this fourth down. I know all it took was one good push to gain the necessary yardage. I understand Cleveland’s defense was gassed.
I get all of this.
However, I still think punting was the right choice to make.
Call me overly conservative, but remember, this is the same Cleveland defense which came up with crucial stops against the New York Jets the previous week. The Raiders had to go 53 yards in a little over a minute with no timeouts. Stopping them shouldn’t have been considered a daunting task.
On top of this, Cleveland was up eight. This wasn’t a situation where Oakland received the ball with a chance to win the game. The team had to not only score a touchdown, but also convert a two-point conversion. It’s understandable for Jackson to think he had a safe enough lead to consider punting over gambling on fourth down.
Gambling is exactly what the Browns would’ve been doing had they attempted to try and gain the first down. Despite the favorable odds, a failure to convert would’ve given Oakland the ball at the 18-yard line. Instead of starting a drive from the opposite side of the field, the Raiders would find themselves in the red zone with over a minute to go and a reignited home crowd.
Despite these facts, many still believe Jackson’s decision to punt is why the Browns lost. I’ve heard more than a few claim they wouldn’t have faulted Cleveland’s coach had he gone for it and failed, that they would’ve supported this decision regardless of the result.
I’m going to go ahead and call bull on that one.
Taking this approach is essentially revisionist history. In reality, had Jackson chosen to push for the first down and failed, he would’ve been skewered. Fans and media would be calling for his head, claiming he basically gave the Raiders a golden opportunity to tie the game.
You can tell me you would’ve patted Jackson on the back for showing some guts in defeat, I’ll just have an extremely tough time believing you. The Browns coach is a lightning rod for criticism, and likely would’ve been bashed no matter what he chose to do if the end result was still a loss.
On top of this, if you believe punting put pressure on the defense to make a stop, imagine how much pressure this unit would endure if it had to take the field and prevent the Raiders from scoring just 20 yards away from the end zone.
I doubt my opinion will be well-received by everyone. I’m also aware there are still questions fans can ask despite all of this. Why not try to get Oakland to jump offsides? Even if the Browns went for it and failed, they would have more time to work with if the Raiders ended up tying the game, so what’s the big deal?
Again, I get it. I’m just trying to explain why this is one call from Jackson which doesn’t deserve the level of scrutiny it’s been receiving in the days since the loss.
It’s far too easy to look at any decision and claim choosing a different route clearly would’ve resulted in a win. To say Jackson deciding not to go for it on fourth is why the Browns lost is just another example of this. There are many reasons why the Browns lost Sunday, this call wasn’t one of them.