There are two issues intertwined with Mike Pettine’s two-point decision. One is, to be honest, trivial and deeply stupid. The other matters very much.
The trivial issue is the claim that that it cost the Browns the game. To claim this, you have to believe that:
- The Browns would have made the kick (no longer automatic)
- Every other play– from that decision to the end of regulation– would have occurred precisely as it did.
That second point is not a trivial supposition. You can blow up this fantasy simply by reading the play by-play account of the next 14 seconds after the extra point try. Let me present this, with the Browns kicking the extra point:
- (8:18) Manning pass short left intended for Hillman Intercepted by Dansby at Denver 35; Dansby for 35 yards; Touchdown
- — Score: Cleveland 20, Denver 16 —
- (8:07) Coons extra point is Good
- — Score: Cleveland 21, Denver 16 —
- (8:07) Coons kicks 67 yards to Denver -2; Bolden to Denver 25 for 27 yards
- (8:02) Manning pass deep right to Sanders for 75 yards, Touchdown
- — Score: Denver 22, Cleveland 21—
- (8:02) McManus extra point is Good
- — Score: Denver 23, Cleveland 21 —
If you seriously believe Denver would have kicked an extra point with the score 22-21, you have a screw loose. My opinion of Gary Kubiak’s judgment is very low, but I assume even he would realize that a two-point conversion makes the score 24-21 (where a field goal only ties the score), and either a kick (which makes it 23-21) or a missed two-pointer (which keeps it 22-21) means the Browns take the lead with a field goal.
So the Broncos go for two points. Maybe they make it; maybe they don’t. Since we don’t know what the score is, we don’t know if both sides call the same plays, use the same schemes or what the outcome is.
Let’s say they go for it and miss, and it’s 22-21. On the third play of the next drive, Cleveland faced a 3rd-&-11. Joe Thomas got called for a false start, making it 3rd-&-16. When they replayed the down, the Broncos dropped everyone into coverage, and held Travis Benjamin to 11 yards.
Maybe, if the score is 22-21 (where a field goal wins it), Thomas isn’t anxious to make a huge block and doesn’t jump. If so– and the 11-yard pass happens exactly as it did in the game– the Browns (instead of punting) go on to score. Or maybe Denver responds differently, because they know a field goal can beat them. Maybe defensive coordinator Wade Phillips calls an all-out blitz (which he has been known to do) and Denver either
- Sacks Josh McCown, who fumbles (which happened earlier in the game)
- Forces him to throw an interception (as he did later in the quarter, when the Browns had the ball on the Denver 46 with 53 seconds left)
Anyone who says it definitely cost the Browns the game hasn’t looked at the play-by-play. There are too many variables in a game to be able to suppose.
Plus, the Browns had two other chances to win:
1. In the possession that began with 4:51 left, the Browns got the ball on their own 40. Two minutes of clock time later, they had advanced the ball to the Denver 25.
That’s a huge amount of time used to move 25 yards, but they were running the ball to try to kill the clock (and keep Denver from rushing 9 guys).
So they get to the Denver 25 with 2:51 left– and then seemingly decide “OK, all we need is a field goal”:
- (2:13) Robert Turbin runs left for 8 yards to the Denver 14
- The two-minute warning sounds.
- (2:00) Turbin runs left (again) for 3 yards the Denver 11
- Denver calls its first timeout
- (1:53) McCown throws a dink screen to FB Malcolm Johnson, who has two tacklers in from of him and gets no yards
- Denver calls its second timeout
- (1:47) Isaiah Crowell runs right for 3 yards to the Denver 8
- Denver calls its last timeout
- (1:41) McCown throws an incomplete pass– a very short one– to Brian Hartline
- Coons kicks.
No passes into the end zone. No passes to your big playmakers. Very nearly no passes.
And, honestly, if you’ve already run three times on four plays, you might as well make it four out of five, so you take more time off the clock. Denver is out of time outs; you could run the clock from 1:47 down to under a minute. Take the Delay Of Game penalty and kick from the 13.
That was a classic example of playing not to lose.
2. The Browns tie it, Denver goes three-and-out and kick it back to the Browns at the Cleveland 40 with 53 seconds left. On the third play of the drive, McCown gets picked to end the drive and give Denver another shot.
If I’m going to blame the Browns for not winning in regulation, that– not some fairy tale– will be what I cite.
But all of this is, in the grand scheme of things, trivial. What matters to me is Mike Pettine’s explanation of why he did it: “If you go up six and then you kick a field goal, now you’re up nine which makes it a two-score game on their part.”
There are two interpretations you can make from that comment:
- Pettine didn’t think the Browns could score another touchdown (“and then you kick a field goal”).
- He also didn’t think his defense could shut down the Broncos for the remaining 8 minutes (“now you’re up nine which makes it a two-score game on their part”).
The first statement is appalling. You’ve already scored two offensive touchdowns in the second half. The first was an 8-play, 79-yard drive, with none of it coming on penalty yardage, or a really big play (the longest gain was a 25-yard pass to Andrew Hawkins).
The second was in the fourth quarter– the drive before the interception. 8 plays, 80 yards. Most of it came on the 47-yard pass to Benjamin, but take that out and you still have 7 plays for 33 yards– that’s 4.7 yards per play.
But the Browns’ coach didn’t trust his offense. That’s OK, neither do I. But he needed to be up nine points– against an offense playing the way Denver was playing that day? That’s sad.
When Jimmy Haslam decides to clean house at the end of the season, this game will be a strong argument for tossing both “Snapchat” Farmer and Pettine. The defense:
- Allowed 26 points to a team averaging 22.6
- Allowed 152 yards on 33 carries (4.6 per carry) to a team that was averaging 3.3
- Had no sacks against a line with two starters missing and a third hobbled.
- Forced no fumbles
- Knocked down only five passes
- Made only one interception that required any skill (the tip and catch by Barkevious Mingo; Karlos Dansby just made smart plays).
That was the fourth or fifth-worst game Peyton Manning has ever played. And he still managed to beat Mike Pettine’s defense.
At the end of this season, the Browns are likely to have only a handful of gains for the last two years:
- The drafting and development of LG Joel Bitonio and CB Pierre Desir
- The successful signings of Andrew Hawkins (as a free agent) and Taylor Gabriel (as an undrafted free agent)
Everyone else he either inherited or adds no substantive value. It’s a sad, sad legacy. Questions?
What about Gary Barnidge and Travis Benjamin?
Both were here before this regime arrived and neither are likely to be here long after it. Here is the list of unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, their ages and their current salaries
- Tashaun Gipson (25), FS, $2,356,000
- Craig Robertson (27), ILB, $2,356,000
- Rob Housler (27), TE, $1,760,000
- Mitchell Schwartz (26), RT, $1,645,267
- Johnson Bademosi (25), CB, $1,542,000
- Barnidge (30), TE, $1,200,000
- Benjamin (25), WR, $779,250
- Turbin (25), RB, $660,000
- Tank Carder (26), ILB, $660,000
Pretty much all the guys who are playing decently will leave, and you can understand why. Barnidge and Benjamin are being paid less than Bademosi– a player no one has suggested is competent. That’s a clear sign you’ve got a bad contract, and the Browns have done nothing to address it.
Barnidge is 30, so this will be his last chance to make money. Ditto for Robertson (he has 2-3 years left). Benjamin could blow out a knee at any time. Gipson had a bitter salary dispute a year ago. Plus, the list doesn’t include 30-year-old Alex Mack, who can opt out of his contract and the end of the year and try to sign with a good team.
This is one of the Browns’ ongoing problems– a reason why they never win, A sensible GM would have tried to lock up Barnidge and Benjamin weeks ago, pointing out that playing out their contract could leave them vulnerable to a career-ending injury. You wouldn’t want to lose Schwartz or Robertson, based on how they’re playing and what you have behind them. (Gibson is probably a lost cause.)
But the reborn Browns have never had a GM who understood what his duties were. They have people with no knowledge of contracts, no desire to have good player relations– and pretty much nobody who could draft.
So you expect the Browns to blow everything up?
The Browns can’t blow everything up. “Blow up” means you make wholesales changes to a team that’s been doing OK, but is clearly a cut below the elite.
If the Indians— who have had three straight winning seasons, but are only 15 games over .500 in that time (11 of them in one season)– were to fire Chris Antonetti, see Terry Francona opt out of his contract (he has a clause sayign he can do that), then trade Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Zach McAllister, Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall, that would be blowing things up.
You can’t blow up a team that goes 2-14 or 4-12. You haven’t built anything.
I don’t think Haslam wants to clean house again, but if the Browns go 3-13, what choice does he have? He has to fire Snapchat– you can’t this unqualified hack blow yet another draft. And if they get a new GM, the guy will want to pick his own coach. He is highly unlikely to say “Gosh, Mike Pettine has gone 7-9 and then 5-11. He was supposed to fix the defense, and he hasn’t. I better keep him.”
A sub-.500 record, where you go backwards in season two, is clearly failure.
So you think this loss sealed their fates?
The season isn’t entirely beyond repair. Next week’s opponent is the Rams. They’re 2-3 and have the NFL’s second-worst offense and an ordinary (13th) defense. The Browns could win and get back to 3-4, giving people hope that they can get back to .500 against the Cardinals. They’ll lose that game, dropping them to 3-5, but the next two games will be against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, both of whom Cleveland beat a year ago.
After that, they hit the bye week, and the final games are the AFC North teams, Seattle, Kansas City and San Francisco. The last two teams will be easy for a team playing well.
But this is not a team playing well. If it were, the Browns would have won their last four games, be 5-1 and gaining some respect. They would have won yesterday handily.
How much did the absence of Joe Haden hurt them?
I honestly don’t know. Desir, his replacement, played every snap and gave up 127 yards passing on 12 catches. That is pretty bad. On the other hand, (a) he was targeted 17 times, and (b) the receivers he was trying to cover have been to 3 Pro Bowls (Demaryious Thomas) and 1 (Emmanuel Sanders).
It was not a good game– but it was his third career start. I am eager to see him play a team where he isn’t covering a star.
More to the point, we don’t know what sort of game Haden would have had. If Haden would have played well, his injury was a huge loss. If he was gonna get skunked, it probably wasn’t the deciding margin– and I’d prefer to develop Desir.
The injuries that really hurt were Gipson and Robertson. Gipson has 13 interceptions, 22 knockdowns and a forced fumble in 41 games. Facing a quarterback who threw three interceptions, you’d have to guess he could have gotten another. Robertson is either their second-best coverage linebacker or their best. Maybe he gets in the way of a few balls.
The best is Dansby, right?
Mingo. Dansby made two nice plays, but he wasn’t covering a receiver either time. He simply realized where the ball was going and put himself in its way of two bad throws. That’s a very valuable skill, but it’s not the same as “make sure this guy doesn’t catch a pass.”
Mingo was out there for 20 snaps, made one great play (the pick) and didn’t really have any bad ones. He’s too light to rush the passer and still seems a bit confused by what is going on. But he can run, and he is trying.
The problem wasn’t the coverage. It was the lack of pressure on Manning.
They hit him twice and they hurried him 5 times.
And if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a whale of a Christmas. The Browns are 23rd in sacks and 22nd in sack percentage. 7 of their 10 sacks came against Tennessee, 2 were allowed by San Diego and the Ravens gave up the other.
If the Browns were getting a strong, consistent pass rush, their coverage would look better. But they have three players on this roster only for their pass rush ability and only LB Armonty Bryant (3.5 sacks) looks even remotely like a player. DT Xavier Cooper has half a sack and LB Nate Orchard has none.
They’re both rookies.
There were 125 players drafted this year. Eight linemen have more sacks than Cooper– one (Baltimore’s Za’Darious Smith) was drafted later that he was (slot 96).
Orchard (taken in slot 51) obviously is tied for last; four linebackers taken after him have more sacks.
It’s not just the sack totals, it’s that neither is playing much. Orchard was in active in the first game, then has had 13, 20, 25, 43 and then 26 snaps. The only game he was in for more than half the plays was the Baltimore game. Cooper missed games 1 and 2, then played 26, 27, 23 and this week 17.
Notice, in both cases, playing time went down this week
Oh, and here’s good news: #1 pick Danny Shelton played 67% of the snaps in week one, 50% in week two, 62% in week three, 42% in week four, and 44% in week five. He was down to 30% this week– only 25 of the 88 snaps.
Kinda looks like the coaches are saying “Maybe you guys better get back on the bench.”
The Browns have had Desmond Bryant back.
Benched to make way for Desmond Bryant… that’s a career epitaph if I ever heard one.
The bottom line is that Ronnie Hillman (20-111) gutted them. The only reason the numbers look even partially respectable is that C.J. Anderson, who continues to look like a one-year wonder, got 13 carries and produced only 41 yards.
The Browns scored 23 points against the #2 defense.
6 of the Browns’ 23 points came when the offense was not on the field. The field goal came on a 37-yard drive. It had the ball on its own 40 or better seven times out of 16, and it produced 0- points:
- Drive #1 (Denver 49, after interception): 6 plays 17 yards, turned the ball over on downs.
- Drive #5 (Cleveland 40, after punt): 4 plays, 17 yards, punted.
- Drive #6 (Cleveland 41, after missed field goal): 3 plays for 13 yards, end of half.
- Drive #9 (Cleveland 49, after punt): 2 plays for -7 yards, fumble.
- Drive #13 (Cleveland 40, after punt): 10 plays for 37 yards, field goal.
- Drive #14 (Cleveland 40, after punt): 3 plays for 14 yards, interception.
- Drive #16 (Denver 39, after interception): 3 plays, -13 yards, punt.
Drive #14 came when the game was tied with 1:06 left; drive #16 happened in overtime.
What else… Oh, I know: Let’s talk about what a great player Josh McCown is now?
Don’t get on McCown. He admitted he had
a terrible game; he feels bad enough.
Of course he admitted that he had a terrible game. What did you think he’d do– make the ‘money’ sign? Josh McCown’s best skill is the post-game presser where he takes responsibility for the loss– he’s had a lot of practice at it.
A 51% completion percentage, thanks to nine off-target passes. 5.5 yards per pass, thanks partly to his low percentage and partly to checking down a lot. Two touchdown passes, but as many picks– one a pick-six. Four sacks– all coming because he held the ball too long. One sack a fumble that set up a field goal. All summed up in a 63.3 rating.
You know he was playing with a bad ankle.
And we don’t know how bad. If it was hurting bad enough to hurt his ability to throw, he should have said “I don’t think I can play.”
Did you want him to sit down,
given what happened to Johnny Manziel?
What I want is for him to stop playing like Josh McCown. Or for Pettine to start thinking about playing Austin Davis.
So you wouldn’t have started Johnny Manziel?
Not now or ever. His career with the Browns is over, but that’s a separate piece.