The culture of losing is thick in Cleveland, so deeply embedded within the Browns’ organization that it is hard to imagine any other reality for them. The team has lost 13-of-14 regular-season openers since returning to the NFL in 1999, and Sunday’s 17-16 loss to the Eagles was simply maintenance of the status quo.
But it didn’t have to be that way.
The Browns actually held the lead for much of the fourth quarter, despite the struggles of the entire offense, most notably QB Brandon Weeden. The defense had forced poor series after poor series, including four interceptions on Eagles QB Michael Vick. The fourth pick — the most important one of them all — was returned 27 yards for a touchdown by LB D’Qwell Jackson, giving the Browns a 15-10 lead with 13:59 left in the game.
Rather than opting for the two-point conversion, Browns HC Pat Shurmur took the extra point for a 16-10 advantage.
It should be noted that Shurmur’s decision to go for the extra point cannot necessarily be pegged as “wrong.” With the defense playing as well as it was, the Eagles would have been hard-pressed to kick two field goals to tie the game and even more unlikely to score a touchdown for the win.
But this is Cleveland, where a 16-10 lead late in a game hangs in an especially precarious manner and, naturally, the Eagles scored a touchdown late for the 17-16 lead.
As always, hindsight is perfect, and it is easy to criticize Shurmur for deciding against the two-point conversion. But this goes beyond simple armchair quarterbacking. This is the perpetuation of a loser’s mentality in Cleveland, the play-it-safe methodology that continues to doom this organization.
Whether or not the Browns would have made the two-point conversion doesn’t matter (and judging by how the offense played on Sunday, it didn’t seem likely); this is about exhausting every possible opportunity for a win.
Opting for the two-point conversion not only would have showed confidence in the offense despite its rough start, but it was an opportunity to show the defense that its effort to that point was appreciated.
More importantly, it would be the savvy gamble of a coach whose team, a huge underdog, just took the lead on a momentum-changing interception return for a touchdown. The Eagles were reeling at that point, and a successful two-point conversion would have likely, at worst, potentially meant overtime.
Miss the two-point conversion and the outcome wouldn’t have changed. What’s the difference between a one-and two-point loss?
Pat Shurmur was well within his right to simply go for the extra point with almost an entire quarter remaining in the game. But where some people question this particular decision, fewer still would have wondered why he would try to give his team a seven-point lead against a still-capable offense in a game it wasn’t even supposed to be close to winning in the first place.
With so little to lose, and so much to gain, Shurmur missed an opportunity to foster a new mentality in Cleveland. Instead, the Browns are once again entering the second week of the NFL season at 0-1, wondering where it wrong.