GREEN BAY, WIS. — Brandon Weeden’s plan to bounce back never got off the ground Sunday at cold, damp and historic Lambeau Field.
His first two passes sailed out of bounds — by a bunch. His third was dropped by Davone Bess. He got hit on the fourth.
The Browns fell behind by 14 before the bratwursts got warm, and never recovered in a 31-13 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Browns are 3-4 after two straight losses. The Packers are 4-2 and have won 10 straight in the land of green and yellow and 23 of 24 in the regular season.
The Cleveland defense couldn’t stop a guy who entered with one catch, and was bad again on third down — this time early. Penalties on defense and special teams were costly. The receivers dropped at least five passes.
But the loss is again about Weeden, who fell to 0-4 as the starter this year. He was grossly outplayed by Rodgers, couldn’t get in the end zone until 6:09 left and threw another ill-advised pass under duress.
So much for rebounding from the scoreless second half last week in the loss to the Lions.
On his last chance with the ball, with the outcome long since decided, Weeden threw an underhanded pass in the direction of fullback Chris Ogbonnaya that hung in the air before falling to the ground for an incompletion. It resembled the backhanded flip toward Obgonnaya last week that was intercepted and drew
the scorn of Northeast Ohio and the ridicule of the nation.
Weeden said he was trying to avoid a sack. He called it a mistake but didn’t apologize.
“Cuss me all you want, but I’m going to leave everything out on that field,” he said. “I’m going to fight until that clock says zero.”
He went 17-for-42 for 149 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 48.6 rating. He was sacked three times as the Browns struggled to pick up the blitz from a Green Bay defense missing three of its four starting linebackers. Weeden had a 1.7 rating in the first quarter. It grew to 16.4 at halftime.
Coach Rob Chudzinski said he never considered going to backup Jason Campbell.
“Not in this game,” Chudzinski said. “That didn’t cross my mind at any time in this game.”
What about moving forward? The Browns travel to 7-0 Kansas City on Sunday.
“We’ll look at it and evaluate everybody and see where we’re at,” Chudzinski said. “We’ll always put the guys out there that we feel like give us the best chance to win.”
Weeden and the Browns couldn’t have started much worse.
On third-and-9 on the opening possession, Weeden had time and receiver Greg Little running open across the field. The throw wound up well into the Cleveland sideline.
“It was definitely slippery, but that’s no excuse,” Weeden said. “Aaron was throwing the ball just fine in it. The one to Greg I squeezed too tight. Just missed it.”
Rodgers wasted no time proving he could handle the elements, move the ball and score with a depleted receiving corps. He was missing starter Randall Cobb and No. 3 James Jones, and replacements Jarrett Boykin, Myles White and Chris Harper entered with one catch among them.
Rodgers needed just four plays to find the end zone. He hit tight end Jermichael Finley for 26 yards and again for a 10-yard touchdown.
Four Browns missed tackles on the score — linebacker Craig Robertson, safety Tashaun Gipson, cornerback Buster Skrine and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
The Browns failed to capitalize on a roughing the punter penalty on the ensuing drive — a theme for the day, as the Browns did little with a handful of chances.
They reached third-and-1 on the Green Bay 37, but Weeden threw an incompletion to covered running back Fozzy Whittaker in the flat. On fourth-and-1, Weeden looked left and tried to force the ball to a covered Bess. Davon House intercepted and returned it to the Green Bay 44.
“They undercut it. They played it as good as they could play it,” Weeden said.
Rodgers doesn’t waste that type of field position. He finished 25-for-36 for 260 yards, three touchdowns and a 117.8 rating.
The Packers converted three third downs before rookie Eddie Lacy (22 carries, 87 yards, 3.7 average, touchdown) scored on a 1-yard run with 3:44 left to make it 14-0. The third-down woes the Browns had hoped to fix hadn’t gone away.
Rodgers completed a 15-yarder to Boykin on third-and-8. Boykin had one catch coming in and added eight for 103 and a touchdown. Rodgers scrambled for 5 on third-and-3. Lacy ran for 13 yards on third-and-5 when Rodgers switched the play from a pass.
The Browns allowed the Packers to convert six of eight third downs in the first half as they fell behind 17-3. Green Bay was only 1-for-5 in the second half, but Rodgers led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter after the Browns threatened to make it a game.
“We focused on third down last week, we’re going to continue to focus on it,” Jackson said.
The Browns’ best chance to scare the 77,804 fans came early in the fourth quarter. They had trimmed Green Bay’s lead to 17-6 and had a chance to extend the momentum. But an illegal-formation penalty wiped out a completion to the 20-yard line and Weeden threw incomplete on third-and-15 from the 31-yard line.
Instead of trying a 49-yard field goal — Billy Cundiff was already good from 46 and 44 in the opposite direction — Chudzinski went for it on fourth-and-15 because of the strong wind coming out of the north. Weeden threw toward receiver Josh Gordon at the 5-yard line, but House broke it up as it reached Gordon, who let the ball come to him.
“It seemed like it was a playable ball and you’d like to see him come up with that catch,” Chudzinski said.
Gordon finished with two catches for 21 yards on six targets. He dropped a pass and left the game for a couple of plays in the first half with an apparent shoulder injury after being driven into the ground.
Weeden said he would never question Gordon’s effort.
“Josh plays extremely hard,” he said.
“I jumped up at it and tried to make a play on the ball but the defender came back and got his hand in there and knocked it out,” Gordon said. “I definitely think I did attack it the way I usually do and the DB made a great play on the ball.”
Jackson said the team is “absolutely” behind Weeden. They both tried to put a positive spin on a day filled with negatives.
“I’m not discouraged,” Weeden said. “I told the guys when there was a minute left, ‘Hey, listen, there is a lot of football to go.’
“We got nine games to go, another big one on the road next week, the last thing we need to do is get discouraged this early.”