By In Stuff

The Last Drive

The Cleveland Browns lost their 11th straight game this season, and they endured one of the nastiest displays of disrespect in recent memory, and there is every indication that they will start imploding now. So, of course, I want to talk about a completely meaningless drive at the end of the game.

Before getting to that, though, yes, we talk a bit about the other stuff. The Browns played much-despised Pittsburgh on Sunday. And the Browns stunk. I guess that goes without saying, but the offense’s stinkiosity in this game was symphonic. In my lifetime as a Browns fan, I have never seen an offensive line play worse. I mean, no, I don’t often spend my time grading out offensive linemen but there was something particularly porous about the line — eight sacks, a concussed quarterback, 33-yards rushing, all against a Steelers defense that hadn’t been very good until Sunday, even these things do not illustrate the glorious confusion, comedic timing and general disinterest of this offensive line.

And, understand, the line did this even with though superhero Joe Thomas continues to play left tackle with distinction and honor. I honestly don’t know how the guy does it. He’s like Superman and Clark Kent put together. I mean, for years and years now, he has played for terrible, terrible football teams. He never knows who his quarterback is. He never knows who is with him on the offensive line. The gameplan changes daily, coaches walk the plank with Blackbeard regularity, trade rumors always swirl around him, and the sickening losses just pile up, one after another, like unread New Yorker magazines.*

*I will get to them. I promise I will get to them.

And week after week, month after month lost season after lost season, Joe Thomas plays some hardcore, back-breakin’, pancakin’, no BS takin’ football. Man, I love that guy. As the old punchline goes, why can’t the whole plane be made of Joe Thomas? And after this game, Joe Thomas finally spoke out against a team that couldn’t find a way to keep guard Mitchell Schwartz and center Alex Mack, two professionals, and continues to put their quarterbacks into a shooting gallery. “You’ve got to lie in the bed that you’ve made,” Thomas told reporters after the game, and yes, the Browns built this bed of nails with obscenely bad draft picks and various money-saving decisions. Joe Thomas sure deserves better.

Anyway, even with the offensive line getting flattened, it was still only 6-0 Pittsburgh in the final seconds of the first half. The Browns defense was not playing well, exactly, but they were tightening up around the goal line, and the Steelers are not very good. Pittsburgh did go on one more drive just before the end of the half, and they moved the ball to th Browns three with only five seconds remaining.

At this point, of course, the Steelers like any other team reluctantly but confidently kicked the field goal to give them a two-score lead, the Browns defense had held them out of the end zone again …

… only the Steelers didn’t. With five seconds left, the Steelers thought so little of the Browns’ chances to come back that they decided to try and score the touchdown. It was a bold move — and a smart one, I think. More teams should be bold like that. And Steelers coach Mike Tomlin does have some boldness in him. Still, I think this move was less bold and more of a direct insult at the Browns’ awfulness. They were basically saying, “Eh, if we don’t score here, we’ll score later. It will be fine.”

And then: Justice! Ben Roethlisberger’s pass fell incomplete as the clock expired. So, ha, the Browns may be horrendous, but for one minute in time, they showed those mean old Steelers that they can’t just come into Cleveland and disrespect … oh, wait there’s a penalty flag.

Holding. Defense. The Steelers get to run one untimed down.

Ah well, so it goes, right. Now the Steelers can kick that field goal and … oh, wait a minute, they’re going for it again. Yep, sticking it into Cleveland’s face one more time, total lack of respect, and, what do you know? Justice! Roethlisberger’s pass is incomplete AGAIN. So, ha, the Browns may be horrendous, but for one minute in time they showed those mean old Steelers that they can’t just come into Cleveland and disrespect … oh, wait there’s a penalty flag.

Pass interference. Defense. The Steelers can run an untimed down.

At this point, yeah, you know what happened. The Steelers went for it a THIRD TIME, of course, only this time it was from the 1 so they didn’t even bother trying to throw the ball. Roethlisberger just handed it off to Le’Veon Bell, who stayed on his feet even as he ran into the back of the end zone. There’s the touchdown.

And then, the Steelers — just for fun — made a two-conversion. It’s like the old Richard Pryor line about Muhammad Ali’s boxing style of grabbing a boxer who gets too frisky: “Take your- little ass on back on over there … and (jab) take this with you.”  The humiliated Browns took their 14-0 deficit with them into the locker room because there was nothing else to do.

One more point on this: Per Gil Brandt, Ben Roethlisberger has now tied Derek Anderson for most quarterback wins at FirstEnergy Field in Cleveland. That’s low.

After the Steelers’ diss, quarterback Cody Kessler took a beating and ended up in the concussion protocol, which should be the nickname name for the Browns locker room. But the Steelers kept farting around and refusing to put the Browns away.

Cleveland scored a touchdown to make it 17-9 and theoretically get back into the game, at which point Cody Parkey missed the extra point because, well, of course he did. The Browns got the ball back with 3:49 remaining with the theoretical chance of scoring the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion, but then there was the usual Browns offensive line jailbreak, Browns quarterback Josh McCown got hit and vomited the ball forward into the hands of Javon Hargrave who plopped on top of it to score the put-away touchdown.

There was then a great shot of Browns coach Hue Jackson just shaking his head sadly.

Only one coach, Detroit’s Rod Marinelli, has ever endured an 0-16 season. He did not survive after that, but it was his third season. This is just Jackson’s first season and, as I have written, I hope the Browns stick with him just to keep a little order in the organization. That said, it’s hard to think of one thing Hue has done this year — other than refuse to make excuses and entertain us all with his comically frustrated looks after the Browns manage their various feats of mayhem — that inspires any confidence at all. Well, at least we have those looks.

So all of this made for, more or less, a typical Browns week.

But now we get to that meaningless final drive, which for some reason bothered me more than anything else. I don’t even know why I was still watching, to be honest. There’s something about pointless final drives that interest me for some reason — I like seeing how people respond when there’s absolutely nothing on the line.

I suppose you could argue that when the Browns got the ball back with 3:36 left and down by 15 they had a hypothetical chance of winning by scoring a touchdown, getting the two-point conversation, getting the onside kick back and then scoring another touchdown to tie the game. But, no, let’s talk reality here.

So, this was just a drive for pride. The Browns started with a delay of game penalty because of course they did. They had two timeouts, which of course there was no reason to use, but they had them as they coughed and wheezed and limped down the field. Bruce Springsteen asks, “Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making his way down the street?” Yes, Bruce, I have — weekly.

On fourth and 8, McCown somehow completed an 8-yard pass to Terrelle Pryor. On fourth and 10, McCown completed a minus-10 yard pass to Duke Johnson, who fumbled and watched the Steelers return it for a touchdown … but the Browns got the ball back thanks to a pity roughing-the-passer call.*

*Mike Tomlin was HOT about that call. He probably had a point — the defensive lineman brushed McCown’s head as he tried to get away from an offensive lineman. But Mike, seriously, you won the game. Relax.

On fourth and 1, the Browns’ Isaiah Crowell gained two yards to the Pittsburgh 27.

There were 31 seconds left then, and the Browns used their first of those two remaining timeouts.

You may ask: Why would the Browns call timeout there? Well, there could be only one reason — they were going to TRY against all odds to win the game. Throw to end zone, hope for a touchdown, get the two-point conversion, onside kick, Hail Mary, they were going to TRY …

On the next play, Josh McCown threw a little flat pass to Corey Coleman. It fell incomplete.

Well, that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why would they call timeout to throw a flat pass?

On the next play, McCown kind of scrambled around and ran for five yards.

That too didn’t make any sense.

On the next play, McCown threw another short pass, again incomplete.

So, wait a minute, what was happening here? The Browns called timeout and they weren’t even going to TRY to score a touchdown? What’s the point of all this? To practice short passes against a real live NFL defense? To get McCown hurt? To infuriate the 47 fans who were still in the stands? Why wasn’t McCown at least trying to squeeze a pass into the end zone? Was he worried about getting intercepted down 15 points with less than a half-minute remaining? Somebody help me with this.

On fourth and five, McCown threw a little pass to Seth DeValve, who should change his first name to “Safety,” for eight yards and a first down. The clock was about to run out when the Browns, yes, called their final timeout. Two seconds remained.

It’s hard being a fan of the worst team in football. You have to get your joy in small things in seasons filled with black comedy and horror movie scenes. So with two seconds left, and another game lost, I settled in to see just how the Browns were going to try and score a meaningless touchdown against the much despised Pittsburgh Steelers.

And what do you think Josh McCown did?
Right. He threw a short pass to Duke Johnson in the flat. It fell incomplete.

I watched Joe Thomas walk off the field and felt so incredibly sad.

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19 Responses to The Last Drive

  1. John Anderson says:

    Actually, Seth DeValve should just change his name to “Safe.” Safe DeValve.

  2. Chris Smith says:

    Nothing is more demoralizing to me as a fan than having a 3rd down and anything, and not throwing it at least that far. I don’t care if it’s 3rd and 42, you throw the ball 43 yards. Just Win Baby!!!!

    Sounds like the Browns were going that same route for an entire drive. At least they got close.

  3. Largebill says:

    Essence of being a Browns fan: Knowing this article was going to be painful to read yet reading every word anyways.

  4. Bryan Adams says:

    When the Browns started that “down by 9” drive, with my dad as my witness, I said the following:

    “Well, what do you think here? McCown pick-six on an out route to Coleman? Two running plays for two yards followed by incomplete and a punt? Does McCown take the safety? Crowell fumbles, ballgame over?”

    And when McCown fumbled and the Steelers recovered for a touchdown, I said:

    “I can’t believe I thought of all the bad things that could happen and I STILL MISSED THE BAD THING THAT HAPPENED.”

    I’m still a Hue Jackson fan, but yeah … this is one of the worst football teams I’ve seen in a long while.

  5. Marc Schneider says:

    I think the NFL should have the right to take away the franchise rights of owners who continually put a lousy product on the field, just like Subway or Exxon could take away the franchise of an owner/dealer not meeting the standards of the brand. The NFL should have some concern about the product it puts out there. I’m not a Browns fan but it infuriates me that the Browns and, by extension, the NFL takes money from fans for a supposed professional team when what they really have is a almost a semi-pro team. Of course, the fans are the ones choosing to pay their money. I would love to see a game where there are like 5000 people in the stands. I bet that would get the NFL’s attention. (Not just the Browns but any team that is terrible year after year.)

    • invitro says:

      If the fans are still shelling out the big bucks to attend games, and people (like Joe) are still watching on TV, then people must still be getting their money’s worth, as crazy as that sounds. The right way to get rid of the owner is to hit him/her in their pocketbook. Totalitarianism is still wrong, as it is in real life :).

      • Marc W. Schneider says:

        Well, I was saying the NFL should be able to do it, not the government. Although the NFL often acts as if it’s a sovereign power.

    • Mike says:

      Can we put the Browns in FBS, and move Alabama up next year? For geography we can just have it be Ohio State. The rest of college football will just have to live with losing a championship, but hey it’s a 0-16 team, they can give it a chance, right?

  6. Benjamin Wildner says:

    For the sake of all that is good about Sports humanity has to do something to liberate Joe Thomas.

  7. Rob Smith says:

    The thing about football, and this is often called out then completely ignored during the season, is that you cannot win without good line play. An offense with a bad offensive line cannot run or protect the passer. Plays just don’t work properly if the blocking isn’t there. Then everyone will complain about the quarterback and the running back and receivers not being productive…. punctuated occasionally be the fact tellers that again point out how bad the offensive line is.

    Everyone always talks about how important a left tackle is. It is important. But plenty of team have pass rushers on the other side of the line. So right tackle is important. Oh, and center. You do not understand how important the center is until you don’t have a good one. If you have a good one, they make all the blocking calls and coordinate the line of scrimmage. If you have a bad one, the quarterback has to do it. The QB may, or may not be good at it, and in any case, it gives them one more job to do that could distract from reading defenses and making adjustments to the play itself.

    This brings us to Alex Mack. Last year the Falcons had a Browns like season (though no where near as bad). The offensive line was a sieve. The center could not snap the ball out of the shotgun consistently and blew up several drives with bad snaps that became turnovers or huge losses. He couldn’t call blocking assignments and so Matt Ryan had to do it. He couldn’t really block so teams were rushing straight up the middle into Matt Ryan’s face. Not surprisingly, Matt Ryan had a very sub par season. And he’s a true franchise QB, not some wanna be or never was. He’s a really good QB. So, the Falcons signed Alex Mack. That along with the development of first rounder Jake Mathews at left tackle (and having a healthy season) and the out of nowhere development of Ryan Schrader, who didn’t even play High School football & played at a FCS school, at right tackle (he just got a long term deal). Now the Falcons are in the top 3 in offense.

    Gotta plug the O-Line or no innovation from Hue Jackson is going to matter. If you can’t block, no play is going to work. Ya gotta love Dak Prescott, but he must be in heaven with that awesome Cowboy O-Line. He could not succeed in Cleveland. Maybe Cody Kessler would even look good behind that Cowboy O-Line. Anyway, the Browns letting Alex Mack get away was a major blunder. He’s been gold for the Falcons this year. THE missing piece from last season. The Falcon fans LOVE what he’s done this year & Matt Ryan has been effusive in his praise of what he’s brought to the team. Offensively the Falcons did sign Mohammed Sanu, and he’s helped. But other than that, the only piece that changed from last year is Alex Mack.

    • Chris H says:

      Alex Mack might be the best draft pick the new Browns have made – Thomas is probably a better player overall, but (1) it was obvious, and (2) the value they got trading down from #5 is impressive. Not that they probably did a lot with the other picks, of course.
      .
      I don’t know whether Mangini and that front office would have worked out, but that housecleaning really was the point when it started to look like they were never going to get off the treadmill.

      • Chris H says:

        (I meant picking Joe Thomas was obvious, and trading down to pick Mack provided better value. Should review for clarity before posting.)

  8. rabidtiger says:

    I have compared the Lions to the Browns in the past and found their shortcomings roughly equivalent. On behalf of the Lions, I yield the palm of pathos to the Browns, perhaps permanently. May we hope that Mrs. Ford enjoys her team for her remaining time in the front office.

  9. Brad says:

    Makes me long for the days of Mike Pettine, when they at least won a few games.

  10. Mike says:

    Hue Jackson’s decision to kick a field goal from the 6 trailing 14-0 midway through the third quarter was the perfect complement to Tomlin’s decision at the end of the first half to repeatedly go for a touchdown. That it came four plays after converting a fourth and 9 from the Pittsburgh 27 just added the cherry on top. However likely it was that they would have failed to get a touchdown there, what’s the message to the fans and team? We know we’re going to lose but let’s not get shut out?

  11. Chris H says:

    The thing about football is this: In baseball, you could field a team of replacement players and rookies and win 40 games, even look good against the best teams on the right day. In basketball, the results would be uglier, but you would still win 10 games and be competitive against the bottom few teams in the league. In hockey – I don’t know anything about hockey, so I won’t comment.
    .
    In the NFL in 2016, however, if you put that team of replacement players and rookies on the field, it will literally be dangerous. Not only might you not win a game, but you will be exposing quarterbacks and receivers and others to the risk of career-ending injury. That is what the Browns are doing every week. They ought to be sued for knowingly creating an unsafe workplace.
    .
    I can’t fathom why any free agent would consider signing with this team.
    .
    Incidentally, the Browns are now running radio commercials during the games that say, “it’s at times like these that Cleveland comes together ….” I mean, there’s not much else to sell, but it’s still a special kind of chutzpah.

  12. King Awesome Dawg says:

    Why do the Browns still punt the ball?
    With their record and hopeless season, they are in the perfct position to try to go for it on fourth down on every series, to se if that might actually work. The only time it’s been tried consistently at any level, it’s worked great. If the Browns stopped punting, they might find that it actually works in the NFL, and they would have a huge advantage over other teams.

    The winless Browns punting the ball is the most poinless, futile, ridiculous thing in sports. Clearly they can’t gain 3.3 yards per play, but maybe they could gain 2.5 yards per play. Why not try and find out? Because then they might lose? They are just going to be terible in exactly the same way that every terrible team is, without bothering to try anything different. Makes their pointless season even more pointless.

  13. Mike says:

    >and there is every indication that they will start imploding now.

    Huuh?

  14. gogiggs says:

    You can tag the Browns for letting Mitchell Schwartz go. I still don’t really get that decision.
    You can’t really blame them on Mack, though. Last time his contract was up he signed a huge deal with the Jags and only came back because he was a restricted free agent and the Browns matched his offer sheet. This time he was unrestricted and it was clear he wasn’t coming back (and who can really blame him). The Browns didn’t decide to let Mack go. Mack decided to leave and there was nothing the Browns could do.

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