CLEVELAND — Cornerback Joe Haden was on the verge of tears. Quarterback Brandon Weeden was concussed. Fans would’ve been shocked — if they hadn’t seen it so many times before.
The Browns reached rock-bottom of another lost season Sunday with a 32-28 defeat to Jacksonville.
A loss to the previously 2-9 Jaguars was bad enough. That it came at FirstEnergy Stadium made it worse. That it featured four blown leads, an end-of-the-first-half meltdown and a defensive collapse in the final minutes made it devastating.
That it was the third straight loss after the bye and sixth in seven games made it unbearable. That it overshadowed another record day from receiver Josh Gordon was typical for a franchise that hasn’t won more than five games since 2007.
“We feel like we’re right there, we’re not finishing games,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said.
The Browns actually controlled their destiny following a win over the Ravens on Nov. 3. Three humiliating losses later – blowouts to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh – the Browns are 4-8 and removed from the playoff discussion. They finish the season with three road games in the final four weeks.
Tying last season’s win total of five no longer looks guaranteed. Another top-10 draft pick seems a lot more likely.
“I can’t say I’m shell-shocked,” said fourth-year safety T.J. Ward, who led the team with seven tackles. “I’m disappointed. I’m very disappointed. I think we are a much better team than what we’ve been playing and that’s what makes it so disappointing.
“We’re a good team, and we just haven’t been getting it done. If we were a bad team like we have been in the past, we come in this locker room and it would be whatever. But I think it just makes it that much worse.”
When Gordon ran away from a pair of defenders for a 95-yard touchdown with 3:55 left in the game, he set a sea of records. He finished with 10 catches for a franchise-record 261 yards and two touchdowns.
He’s the first player in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard receiving games, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He’s the only Browns player to top 200 yards and has done it two straight games. His 498 yards in the last two games and 623 over the past three are NFL records, according to Elias.
Gordon’s touchdown also gave the Browns a 28-25 lead. The defense couldn’t hold it.
Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne led a nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Cleveland native Cecil Shorts III on a slant-and-go that beat Haden on third-and-9 with 40 seconds left.
“I (expletive) can’t stand losing,” Haden said, eyes filling with tears, voice cracking. “It hurts. I go out there and put my (expletive) heart out there every time. Every time. And we end up coming up short.
“It was my fault right there on the touchdown. They ran a good route, good play, good offense.”
The defense entered the game ranked fourth overall in yardage and played well most of the day, allowing 314. It gave up an 80-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter, then limited the damage after three turnovers by the offense (11 in three games) and a safety on an out-of-character high snap from Alex Mack. But needing a stop to secure a win, the defense couldn’t get it.
“Anytime they make a huge play like that, the offense came out and struck like that, we definitely want to capitalize on that and we didn’t,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “That’s demoralizing to the defense. They made plays and we didn’t.”
Gipson was beat for 25 yards to midfield on a nice pass to receiver Ace Sanders. Haden gave up a 16-yard catch-and-run to Shorts. Maurice Jones-Drew (23 rushes, 77 yards, 3.3 average) rushed for 4 on third-and-1.
“As a good defense that’s trying to be a top defense, that’s where you win games,” outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard said. “We didn’t do a good job on defense. We didn’t sack the quarterback. We had some penalties. We just didn’t win.”
The offense got to the Jacksonville 47-yard line, but a Hail Mary was knocked down to end the game. Weeden threw it and played every snap, falling to 0-5 as the starter.
He sat at his locker for a spell after the game, but didn’t talk to the media because he had been diagnosed with a concussion, according to team spokesman Zak Gilbert. He said Weeden (24-for-40 for 370 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, a lost fumble and a 94.8 rating) first reported symptoms to the medical staff after the game.
NFL rules prohibit players with concussions from talking to reporters.
The starter for next week in New England (9-3) remains uncertain. Jason Campbell was inactive Sunday after suffering a concussion last week. Alex Tanney, who was signed Tuesday and has never played in an NFL game, is the only other quarterback on the roster.
Weeden’s day was full of ups and downs.
First, the downs. He was responsible for a hard-to-watch sequence of two minutes and 47 seconds to end the first half that resulted in 13 Jacksonville points and turned a 14-7 lead into a 20-14 halftime deficit.
Staying true to his aggressive nature, coach Rob Chudzinski never took his foot off the gas and continued to tell coordinator Norv Turner to call pass plays. Weeden was intercepted down the seam when tight end Jordan Cameron (four catches, 43 yards) didn’t look for the ball until it was too late. The Jaguars drove for a touchdown.
Weeden was intercepted on Cleveland’s next offensive play, an out to Greg Little, who never made it to the sideline. The Jaguars settled for a 44-yard field goal.
Then at the Cleveland 45-yard line with 14 seconds left, Weeden was stripped, and Josh Scobee kicked a 36-yard field goal to end the half, and the carnage.
“Those critical mistakes, turnovers, are killing us,” Chudzinski said. “We’re just not able to overcome. We’re going to be aggressive in those situations and give our guys a chance to be able to make plays.”
Weeden and the offense responded with an 80-yard touchdown drive to start the second half, capped by Little’s 4-yard catch. After the safety — Weeden kicked the ball out of the end zone to prevent a Jaguars touchdown — Weeden found Gordon for what could’ve been the signature play.
“I look up to Brandon, I admire him,” said Gordon, who left for about 11 minutes in the third quarter to get evaluated after taking a shot to the head. “I don’t think anybody is half the man, could take what he takes week in and week out, social media-wise, interview-wise, out here on the field, people booing you like that, it’s rough on him. I definitely appreciate everything he’s doing.”
That’s a hard sell for fans who’ve witness a lifetime of losing football in the last 15 yards, and two subpar seasons from Weeden.
“We won’t stand for losing,” Chudzinski said. “We’re going to get this fixed. It’s unacceptable.
“Everybody is accountable. Every area of the team can get better and could be better today. I’m fully committed to getting this thing turned and finishing our last four games and getting this thing on the right track.”