The Browns Way

Just when you think it can't get any worse

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This will sound like sour grapes, but it really isn’t: There was a blindingly obvious clip on Baltimore’s ridiculous, stupefying and darkly hilarious touchdown against Cleveland on Monday night. You know the play: Cleveland’s Travis Coons lined up for the game-winning 51-yard field goal with only a couple of seconds left. His kick was blocked, Baltimore’s Will Hill — a Seuss-like name perfectly suited for the moment — scooped up the ball and ran for the kick-six touchdown that gave the Baltimore Old Browns the victory and sent the Cleveland New Browns crashing to the ground, again.

On that play, while Hill ran along the sidelines, Ravens safety Brynden Trawick plowed into the back of Coons. Then, to make sure, Trawick put his hands on Coons’ back and shoved him to the ground. It was like two clips in one. It was the sort of vivid foul that officials can use to teach young people what “clipping” means.

At this point, you will say: “How can you say that’s not sour grapes? That sounds PRECISELY like sour grapes … whining about a non-penalty call on the game-losing play?”

Only, here’s the thing: I didn’t want them to call the clip. And having seen the replay 450 or so times now, I’m glad they didn’t. Because if they had called the clip, the torture would only have been prolonged, and the Browns would have found a less interesting way to lose that game. At least this way, there’s a story. The Browns lost as only the Browns can.

You know how at some point you’ve been standing in the rain long enough and you’re so thoroughly drenched that you no longer care how hard the rain comes down? Yeah, as Clevelanders, we passed that point a while ago.

* * *

Let’s take a moment to review the last 50 seconds of Monday night’s game because you can put those in a time capsule to explain this Cleveland Browns team to future generations.

Football is the only sport, I think, where two absolutely terrible teams can play an entertaining game. You get two terrible baseball teams together or two terrible hockey teams, and it’s always boring, unwatchable dreck. True, Monday night’s Browns-Ravens game was dreck too, but it was mildly entertaining dreck because football is a game of mistakes. The most exciting plays in football are almost always due to mistakes — a missed block, a missed tackle, a blown coverage, a brain-freeze. And bad teams make more mistakes so there are more big plays.

Monday night, for example, we had a pick-six, a punt return for a touchdown, a couple of bombs … it was really bad football but oddly pleasing to the eye. And it was tied going into those wild last 50 seconds.

Actually, we want to start at 56 seconds; that’s when Baltimore’s Matt Schaub made the first colossal blunder. He’s so good at making colossal blunders that I’m mildly surprised he is not currently the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback. Schaub is the only quarterback in NFL history to throw pick-six interceptions in four consecutive games. He did that in 2013 for Houston. Earlier in this game, he (of course) threw a pick-six to Cleveland’s Karlos Dansby*.

*Dansby is now tied with Hall of Famers Bobby Bell and Derrick Brooks for the most career pick-six plays by a linebacker with six. As the year has gone on, I have found myself thinking more and more often about Dansby, a 34-year-old linebacker who has had a fine 12-year professional career. He’s a proud man and a good player and pro — and though his physical skills might no longer be as sharp, he has provided just a little bit of competence for this Three Stooges team. He deserves so much better.

Anyway, the Ravens got the ball back with 56 seconds left in the game, and they were about 25 or 30 yards away from a shot at the game-winning field goal. If Baltimore’s real starter, Joe Flacco, had been in the game, it undoubtedly would have been an easy march to victory. But Schaub being Schaub promptly threw a horrifying interception right into the hands of Cleveland’s Tramon Williams. It was one of those “the quarterback and receiver were not on the same page” plays, so the culprit might have been receiver Kamar Aiken. But, you know, Schaub …

So that put the Browns on the Baltimore 46 with 50 seconds left. They were, let’s say, 16 yards away from glory. They had two timeouts.

In came quarterback Austin Davis. To explain why it was Austin Davis, an undrafted quarterback playing third-string for his third team, would require several volumes, but let’s offer the short version. The Browns’ starting quarterback was supposed to be Johnny Manziel nee Football, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and a man the Cleveland Browns drafted in the first round based on the recommendation of an unnamed homeless man and a since-fired offensive coordinator who got an enthusiastic text from Manziel during the draft.

Oh, does that last sentence tell you plenty about the Cleveland Browns.

Two weeks ago, Cleveland coach Mike Pettine finally, finally, finally named Manziel the starter. Manziel’s time with the Browns had been littered with all sorts of off-the-field problems, and he’d been a knucklehead on the field, too, but Pettine finally believed that he had matured enough to get the job. He came to this conclusion shortly after authorities determined there was not enough evidence to charge Manziel with domestic abuse after he and his girlfriend got into a well-publicized roadside argument.

I feel quite sure that Pettine had this conversation with Manziel after the last game:

PETTINE: “Johnny, we’re giving you the starting job …”

MANZIEL: “Yay!”

PETTINE: “We think you have matured enough now that those domestic abuse charges were never brought forward  …”

MANZIEL: “Yipee!”

PETTINE: “But listen, Johnny. There’s a bye week coming up. You have to promise me — PROMISE ME — that you will not embarrass yourself or this organization.”

MANZIEL: “Scout’s honor!”

PETTINE: “Johnny, I need you to look me in the eyes and tell you me — you won’t party or drink or do anything stupid in the seven days leading up to our next Monday night game.”

MANZIEL: “I won’t even leave the house!”

PETTINE: “It’s just one week, Johnny. Just one week. Please, for the love of everything that’s sacred, PLEASE do not get caught on camera drinking and acting like an idiot. OK? Can you do that? It’s just one week.”

MANZIEL: “Coach, your wish is my command!”

So, yeah, of course Manziel was caught on camera looking preposterously drunk during the bye week, and then he reportedly lied about the timing about it, and Pettine had no choice but to pull the guy. I know there are plenty of people out there, including my buddy Peter King, who believe the Browns should have kept Manziel as the starter because the season is lost anyway, and he didn’t do anything illegal, and they have to find out whether or not Manziel can be an NFL quarterback.

They’re wrong. Hey, I want Manziel out there as much as anybody, I’ve been writing that all year, but you can’t in good conscience make him your starter one week after he pulls off stupid bleep like that. Mike Pettine’s days as coach are numbered, obviously, but if he had let Manziel start this week he might as well have just quit immediately. No one can or will respect a coach who lets his quarterback mutiny like that.

So, Josh McCown started, and like usual he played pretty well but then he got hurt — broken collarbone, I guess, which is preposterously painful — and in came Austin Davis. Yep, Manziel had been dropped to third string. Davis actually threw the game-tying touchdown pass a few minutes earlier, but he’s still Austin Davis, and I imagine that when he came on with 50 seconds left, an official came over to the sideline to ask Pettine, “You sure?” And Pettine, with a stern look, growled: “My team’s on the field!”

On the first play, Davis completed a six-yard pass to Brian Hartline over the middle. And then the Browns obviously called timeout because they had two of them and they couldn’t afford to lose 30 seconds, so it was second down and …

No, wait. Call timeout …

No, really, stop joking around, the clock is ticking, call timeout …

Wait, we’re down to 35 seconds, now 30 seconds, now 25 seconds, now 20 …

Right. The Browns didn’t call timeout. They had two of them — I think I mentioned that already — and they only needed another 10 yards to set up a pretty makeable field goal from Travis Coons, who I would like to add had not missed a single field goal in his short NFL career.

But the Browns didn’t call timeout because, it seems, they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. On the next play (ball snapped with 18 seconds left), Davis dropped back, couldn’t find anybody open, sprinted right to get away from the pressure and ran for seven yards. And then he did something amazing. He slid. There was nobody around him. He could have easily run out of bounds, gaining an extra (and crucial) three or four yards in the process. But he didn’t. He slid. Maybe he thought it would be fun to slide. There were eight seconds left. THEN the Browns called timeout.

When you’re watching football this bad, it’s hard to know what to root for. On the one hand, of course, as a Browns fan I’m always rooting for Cleveland to win. On the other hand, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to see this sort of grand incompetence rewarded. With eight seconds left and a timeout, the Browns had to run to one more play. Considering that the ball was on the 33-yard line — setting up a trying 51-yard field goal for a kicker who had never made a 50-yarder — the obvious play was to run some sort of quick pass, pick up eight to 10 yards …

… Oh, what’s the point? The Browns ran up the middle with Duke Johnson because that’s the stupidest play they could come up with, and he obviously gained no yards, and the Browns called their last timeout to set up the blocked-kick return for a touchdown play that Cleveland had obviously spent a lot of time and effort practicing.

Yes, the referees should have called that obvious clipping call on that play. I mean, what’s right is right. But I sympathize with them. I’m sure they were sick of watching this team, too.