After thoroughly dominating the once rival Pittsburgh Steelers in week 7, the Cleveland Browns began a three week stretch against teams with a combined record of 1-16. Despite the loss of ironman center Alex Mack and standout defensive end Armonty Bryant to injured reserve, Browns fans had visions of relevance once again dancing in their heads. For the first time since at least 2007, the Browns were not occupying sole possession of last place in the AFC North this far into a season. Some fans had even projected that a 6-2 Browns team could actually take over first place in the division by the end of week 10. The euphoria lasted only one week.
The Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Cleveland Browns at their own game. Run the ball and stop the run. And run the ball they did . . . 35 times for a total of 185 yards and two TD’s. Ex-Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (all 199 pounds of him – including shoelaces) torched the Browns defense for 127 rushing yards on 22 carries and his first NFL touchdown. Meanwhile, the Browns rushing attack featuring free agent acquisition Ben Tate and rookies Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West could only muster a meager combined 69 yards on 30 attempts.
Adding to the rushing woes, Brian Hoyer had perhaps the worst game of his professional career. Hoyer ended up completing only 16 passes (twice as many as last week) out of 41 attempts (39%) for 215 yards and one interception. Considering almost a third of those 215 yards came on one play – a 65 yard catch and run by Andrew Hawkins and it was clear that there would be no miraculous comeback this time. The Jaguars took away the run and forced Brian Hoyer to beat them through the air and he simply wasn’t up to the task as his throws were often well off the mark. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that, by the time the game entered the final quarter, I wondered if this would be the game where Johnny Manziel would get his opportunity. Hoyer’s performance was simply that bad.
Make no mistake. Jacksonville deserved the win. The Cleveland Browns were outplayed in every phase of the game; Offense, Defense, Special Teams (a spectacular muffed punt reception by Jordan Poyer who had replaced Travis Benjamin for muffing punts) and were soundly out-coached. In my opinion, the turning point of the game came with a little under two minutes left in the first half. Head Coach Mike Pettine eschewed a field goal to go up by a 9-0 score by going for first down on 4th and 1 at the Jaguars 24 yard line. A short Hoyer pass to Jordan Cameron (held to only one catch on the day) was off the mark and fell incomplete. This decision would come back to bite Pettine as the Jags promptly moved the ball 76 yards for a touchdown to take the lead 7-6. And they never looked back.
It’s now gut check time in Berea. Prior to the Jacksonville loss, the Browns compiled a 3-2 record against teams with a combined winning percentage of 0.467. They then went out and got thoroughly embarrassed by a previously winless team. Granted, they have a defensive line depleted by injury and the effect of losing of Alex Mack on the offensive line was obvious. But good teams overcome injury and it could very well be that the depth on the Browns’ roster isn’t up to par. Brian Hoyer also needs to step back and take an honest look at his game. While he wasn’t entirely at fault for the loss, he was certainly a major contributor.
Will they bounce back like contending teams do after a bad outing? We’ll find out in six days as another winless team, the Oakland Raiders, come to town and there is no doubt they will attempt to use the blueprint provided by the Jaguars.