Only in Cleveland can an absolutely beautiful Sunday be completely ruined by our sports teams. Yes, I was in attendance for the Pat Shurmur show yesterday. It was great to be in a full stadium that rocked again. You forget just how fun it is when our teams are good, especially the Browns. It has been so long. But in classic Cleveland fashion, our afternoon was mucked up in the end. Its easy to look back and say what if, but there were three things in particular that completely changed the course of the game:
1. Browns 3 Eagles 3 – 2nd quarter – 1:00 remaining – third and two Cleveland - The Eagles had used two of their timeouts after two straight Browns running plays. Shurmur clearly wanted to get a first down, run the clock out, and head into the locker room tied at 3-3. The call was a play action fake and a throw in the flat to fullback Owen Marecic. QB Brandon Weeden sold the fake well and put the ball right on Marecic’s hands. That was the problem.
Marecic dropped the pass, the clock stopped, and the Browns were forced to punt, giving the Eagles a shot with the ball one more time before the half. Naturally, Michael Vick took his team right down the field and scored a TD to take a 10-3 lead with 23 seconds left in the first half.
If Marecic catches that ball, the Browns are able to run the clock out and head into the locker room with the momentum and feeling great about how they played defensively. Instead, they got a gut punch because their fullback couldn’t catch an easy swing pass in the flat. It was truly a turning point in the game.
2. Eagles 10 Browns 9 – 4th quarter – 13:58 remaining – first and 10 Philadelphia - After the Browns kicked their second field goal to make it 10-6. Vick faded back to pass and was intercepted by all-world Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who ran it in for a touchdown. The Stadium was up for grabs as the Browns took a fourth quarter lead which seemed infathomable a few hours earlier. The D’Qwell pick six put the Browns ahead 15-10.
Now everyone who knows football will tell you, there is no difference in being up five or six in the fourth quarter. It was a completely obvious time to go for two. Spare me your “two field goals can tie you” bit, because the Browns defense had been rock solid all game long. If you get the two-point conversion, you are up seven and a touchdown cannot beat you. But out ran kicker Phil Dawson. I turned to my uncle and mother and said “you know we are going to lose 17-16, right?” Then I tweeted the following:
Only Shurmur doesn’t go for two there. Watch us lose 17-16
— TD (@WFNYTD) September 9, 2012
Well, I don’t need to tell you the rest of what happened. You already know. The first question posed to Shurmur at his postgame press conference was why he didn’t go for two. His response:
“We talked about going for two, but there was a full quarter,” Shurmur said. “We wanted to get the points, absolutely. There’s a decision to be made. I think that decision is made near the end of the game where it’s a one- or two-possession game.”
Still a completely head scratching decision to me. In a similar situation last night in Denver, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin went for two with a five point lead with 14:13 left in the fourth quarter. Tomlin is a Super Bowl winning coach. Shurmur? Not so much.
3. Browns 15 Eagles 10 – 4th quarter – 1:25 remaining - 2nd and goal Philadelphia The Eagles are obviously driving down for the winning score and reach the Browns four yard line. Vick takes the snap from center and rolls out of the pocket. He looks for Jeremy Maclin in the corner and fires a pass which ends up going right through the hands of Linebacker LJ Fort, who had already intercepted a pass and played well all game long.
“He threw it right to me and it went through my hands,” Fort said. “I should have made that play, definitely.”
It goes without saying, but I will say it anyways. If Fort catches the errant Vick pass, the game is over and we are all celebrating a monster upset today. Instead, people like me are writing pieces like this, wondering just how this one slipped through our fingers. Fort is clearly not to blame, he is, after all, a Linebacker, and not an offensive skill position player like Marecic or Greg Little (who’s butterfingers allowed a first quarter red zone interception) are.
Ah….We almost had this one. But then again, we’ve seen this for the last 13 miserable years. The Browns have found new ways to lose, especially in their home openers, since their return in 1999. This one had nothing on the Dwayne Rudd helmet toss almost 10 years ago to the date, but it may have been more painful. But like that loss to the Chiefs, it very easily could have been avoided.
(John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)