The Browns are 2-8, staring down yet another dismal season that ends with a high draft position in April. While the team would gladly trade that for a playoff spot, they also have plenty to be thankful for this week, due to the way in which their most recent loss played out.
The Browns’ 23-20 overtime loss to the Cowboys was disheartening, but they were able escape a fair amount of criticism through the comeback effort. Head coach Pat Shurmur should be especially thankful for that.
It stems from his fourth-quarter play calling which, had the Browns lost in regulation as a result of this, would have only added to the fervent demands for his immediate firing.
Trailing 17-13, facing a 4th-and-1 on the Cowboy’s 1-yard line with 1:47 remaining in the game, QB Brandon Weeden threw a fade intended for TE Jordan Cameron. The pass was thrown out-of-bounds, not even giving Cameron a chance to make a play.
It was right to go for it on fourth down, because the Browns really don’t have anything to lose. Shurmur could have opted to kick the field goal and then try to get the ball back for one more drive, but keeping the Cowboys pinned so deep in their own end made it a worthwhile risk.
But that smart maneuver was immediately erased by such a low-percentage call into the endzone. Some blame must be placed on Weeden for making a poor throw, but there wasn’t much of a chance for the play to succeed in the first place.
However, thanks to a stout defensive stand and some beneficial officiating, the Browns got the ball back with 1:10 remaining and punched it into the endzone on one play. It was a golden opportunity finally taken advantage of, though it doesn’t take away from the fact that Shurmur’s play calling was nearly, once again, the subject of intense scrutiny and anguish in Cleveland.
Rather than be considered a scrappy team that nearly overcame its problems in the secondary, as the Browns are now, losing on that fourth-down call would have completely altered the mindset of everyone, from the fans to the media members grilling Shurmur on a daily basis. And it likely would have affected the mood of the city heading into this Sunday’s game against the Steelers.
Though he was able to redeem himself for the most part, Shurmur’s play calling alone almost ushered in another Browns loss. For his own peace of mind, he should be thankful that things played out the way they did.
And the Browns should be even more thankful that the Steelers come into town battered and bruised on both sides of the ball. Though Pittsburgh has the league’s best defense (giving up only 259.1 yards per game), the Steelers are currently looking to start third-string QB Charlie Batch and have just signed a familiar face in WR Plaxico Burress. In other words, they are primed for an upset.
The Browns have already played plenty of opponents this season that have been vulnerable; taking advantage of that has been the problem for Pat Shurmur and his team.
If they can manage to do that — against their bitter rival, no less — the Browns can finally be thankful for an actual win.