BEREA — Not much has come easy for coach Pat Shurmur in his two years on the job. So when his first three-game winning streak ended Sunday with a deflating 38-21 home loss to the Redskins, it shouldn’t have come as a shock that the defeat carried extra baggage.
His 29-year-old rookie quarterback played poorly against Washington’s 31st-ranked pass defense, leaving some to wonder if Shurmur should’ve yanked Brandon Weeden in favor of Colt McCoy, who hasn’t thrown a pass this season.
“I did not think about it,” Shurmur said Monday.
He also has a rookie running back who popped off after the game and questioned the play calling for the second time this season. Trent Richardson, who averaged 2.5 yards on 11 carries, said the coaches should’ve stuck with the game plan and that abandoning it contributed to the loss.
“I talked to Trent,” Shurmur said. “I explained to him that after a game he will be asked questions. I think it’s very important. I asked him what he meant by what he said.
“I said it’s very important that when we’re all in the state of being disappointed that we lost that we keep our focus on No. 1 regrouping and getting ready to play the next game.”
Richardson at No. 3 and Weeden at No. 22 were the Browns’ first two draft picks in April. They’ve helped the offense improve from 13.6 points per game in 2011 to 20 this year, but the season has come with plenty of potholes and criticism for both.
Weeden had appeared to find his form following the bye week. He had posted four straight games with a passer rating above 78, with three interceptions and three straight wins.
But Sunday was a clunker in arguably the biggest game of the year. He never looked comfortable in the pocket, had four balls batted at the line and went 21-for-35 for 244 yards, a touchdown, two interceptions and a 66.8 rating.
The pair of picks were devastating. They came in the third quarter and helped turn a 14-10 halftime lead into a 31-14 deficit.
“In the games that we won previous to that in the last three weeks we didn’t do that,” Shurmur said. “We did it this week and it bit us. And we did not do enough to overcome those mistakes.”
Weeden said he didn’t see the linebacker drop in coverage on the first interception – two plays into the second half – and was hit on the elbow as he underthrew receiver Greg Little on the second. Despite the day-long struggles, McCoy never got off the bench.
“You always consider in the ballgame whatever gives you the best chance to win the football game,” Shurmur said. “There’s all kinds of conversation and all kinds of thoughts being bounced around. I’m not saying you never go to your backup quarterback, but I didn’t consider it yesterday.”
He said he still believes in Weeden and isn’t fazed by the fact he’ll turn 30 in October.
“I’m looking forward to him having a much better game this week against Denver,” he said. “I haven’t thought about his age once this year. I think of him as a rookie and I think he’ll be much better in his second year.”
Shurmur feels the same way about Richardson, who has battled a rib cartilage injury since Week 6.
The Browns continue to give Richardson a ton of touches — he leads the team with 258 carries and 48 catches — but his production has declined each week for the last six. He hasn’t reached 100 yards or averaged 4 yards a carry since Nov. 4 against Baltimore. For the season, he has 897 rushing yards, a team rookie-record 11 rushing touchdowns and a 3.5 average.
Shurmur was asked if Richardson dances too much before hitting the hole.
“I wouldn’t define his running style yet,” he said. “He’s pretty new in the league and he’s learning how to play running back in this league.
“Somebody theorized last week I was upset with him. I’m not upset with him. Here’s a rookie grinding through an NFL season. He’s far less than 100 percent (healthy). He’s getting in the end zone. Now, would I agree that yards per rush should be better? Yeah, but I’m not disappointed. And I think as time goes on, I think you’ll see him develop a running style whatever it might be.”
Richardson, who complained about a goal-line call against Dallas, opened the game Sunday with runs of 4, 14, 0 and 6 (a touchdown). In his final seven carries, he totaled 4 yards with a long of 2.
Shurmur said the Redskins brought a safety into the box to take away the run game.
“When you watch it, they were doing a pretty good job of defending the run on first down so we tried to throw the ball on first down,” he said. “Now, when you don’t have success throwing the ball on first down, then you get a little bit behind.
“We would like to be able to run the ball consistently throughout on first, second and third down and involve him as a runner running the football.”
The loss could prove critical for Shurmur. He doesn’t know if he’ll be brought back for a third season by owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, and losing to a rookie quarterback named Kirk Cousins and not Robert Griffin III couldn’t have helped.
Shurmur remains focused on the task at hand, which is motivating a team that had its long-shot playoff hopes extinguished Sunday. The Browns (5-9) finish with road games at Denver (11-3) and Pittsburgh (7-7).
“No, I don’t have a problem with (motivation) because we’ve got a locker room full of guys that understand how important it is to go out and play, play hard, play meaningful and try to do what we can to get a win,” Shurmur said. “If the locker room was different, I would be (concerned). But I don’t think that’s the case.”