Somehow, someway, the Browns must start finishing. Victories, not furniture.
The Browns are 3-7 after a 24-20 loss Sunday in Jacksonville.They’ve led in the fourth quarter in four of the defeats — they even led twice in the fourth against the Jaguars — took the Jets to overtime and trailed Atlanta by just three late.
“There’s always more than one way to win or lose a game,” cornerback Eric Wright said Monday. “Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of them. We’re learning all the ways to win and lose a game.”
The latest was particularly painful — and not just because rookie quarterback Colt McCoy sprained an ankle and his status is uncertain for Sunday against Carolina.
The defense forced six turnovers, including on five straight possessions in the second half. Safety Abram Elam returned a fumble for a touchdown, but the only other points generated were on a field goal after the offense lost a yard.
On the five possessions following a turnover, the offense didn’t pick up a first down, McCoy didn’t have a completion and they netted minus-9 yards. The drives lasted a total of 8:15. The offensive ineptitude allowed the Jaguars to hang around long enough to make a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter and score a pair of touchdowns that ruined a big-play day by the defense. The unlikely loss beat long odds.
Since the AFL-NFL 1970, a team with a plus-five or better turnover ratio has a .957 winning percentage (363-16-2), according to STATS LLC. A team with six or more takeaways has won 91 percent of the time (450-44-2).
Coach Eric Mangini said he could not have imagined losing a game with such a discrepancy.
“But we lived it,” he said. “We had a lot of opportunities to change the outcome of the game, and we didn’t take advantage of them.”
Mangini has plenty on his plate.
He must win enough games — four, five, six? — in the last six weeks to convince president Mike Holmgren he’s the right guy for the job. He could also have another quarterback decision to make if McCoy’s ankle doesn’t bounce back after a couple of days of rest and treatment. Mangini wanted to wait until Wednesday to discuss the alternatives, but he may have to choose between Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace to face the Panthers, Delhomme’s former team.
Then there’s the matter of getting his team to win a close game in the fourth quarter. According to Mangini, there’ve been a multitude of issues that led to the heartbreaking defeats.
Turnovers by the Browns have figured prominently, including a Chansi Stuckey fumble in overtime against the Jets. Poor clock management, wasted timeouts, missed tackles and ill-timed blitzes have also hurt.
“The one thing is really understanding how to win consistently and how to be able to play the same way throughout the course of four quarters,” Mangini said. The message was aimed at the defense. For three-plus quarters against the Jaguars they were the story. Elam had his best game as a Brown, rookie safety T.J. Ward had his first two interceptions and rookie cornerback Joe Haden had his team-leading third.
But when one more stop was needed, the defense crumbled. The Jaguars scored on a 59-yard drive to tie it at 17 with 3:34 left, then went 87 yards to go ahead 24-20 with 1:16 left.
“All that good stuff that happened in the second half, you don’t come away feeling like what a great defensive effort,” Mangini said. “We’ve got to be able to come out and continue to answer the bell.”
The Browns’ overall talent level leaves them with a smaller margin for error than most teams. So little mistakes get magnified, when one play would’ve made the difference.
A few examples: tight end Benjamin Watson failed to hold a downfield block on a 47-yard catch-and-run by Peyton Hillis that might’ve gone for a touchdown; undersized backup safety Bubba Ventrone got caught in a mismatch with tight end Marcedes Lewis on a 14-yard touchdown on thirdand- goal; linebacker Marcus Benard took the wrong angle on a pass rush, allowing David Garrard to convert a third down.
“The last couple weeks it’s just a play here and a play there and when you don’t make those big plays at those critical moments in the game, that’s what prevents you from winning those big games,” linebacker Scott Fujita said.
The play calling of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was criticized heavily Monday on talk radio. He continued to run Hillis despite little success, and the offense never took a twoscore lead. Hillis finished with 21 carries for 48 yards, a 2.3 average and a long of 6.
Did the plan get too conservative?
“I know exactly what you’re saying,” Mangini said. “I really believed we were going to be able to turn the corner in the run game. And I know that Brian believed that and the offensive players believed that and felt like we had some good answers there.
“We didn’t execute very well and our answers weren’t as good as we thought they were. So that’s the frustrating part of it.”
Veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown has been through rebuilding projects before and said it’s just a matter of time before the near-misses turn into important wins.
“It’s just a point where you get it and you’ve got it and you don’t look back,” he said. “You don’t make excuses, you realize you have a good football team and you just understand how to overcome all those situations.
“When you break it down, it’s those one or two plays that’s so fixable. It kills you in the end because the only thing that matters is the ‘W’ or the ‘L.’ And we have to get over the hump of making that excuse. Just understand, no more excuses and let’s do it the right way.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.