For three consecutive games, the Cleveland Browns have held a lead in the fourth quarter, and in three straight contests, they came out on the wrong end of the scoreboard despite having a chance to keep the opponents out of the end zone.
For defensive coordinator Ray Horton, the key to preserving a win instead of giving up a score in a losing effort is the ability to make a play that will stop positive momentum for the opposition.
“As you watch games, there’s a play somewhere,” Horton said Thursday. “There is pressure. You do have to have some kind of positive play. Very seldom do they just throw the ball out of bounds or throw the ball incomplete. Make a play. It comes down to that.
“No turnovers, no sacks in crunch time and they go down and have an 80-yard drive. You have to have some kind of negative play to get them off the field, and it hasn’t happened. We talk about turnovers and we created I don’t know how many the last couple weeks. They were early in the game and led to points being scored, but we didn’t get one in the fourth quarter.”
In Horton’s opinion, allowing the Chicago Bears to score 21 fourth-quarter points in their 38-31 win last Sunday spoiled good efforts from safeties T.J. Ward and
“You cannot play well for three quarters and then, come crunch time, tighten up because the calls are the same and the same players, theoretically, are on the field,” Horton said. “We’ve looked at our plays and talked about being clutch. Some of our players have really played at a Pro Bowl level. Tashaun Gipson had a Pro Bowl-level game. T.J. (Ward) did. There’s a lot of players playing at a high level.”
In addition to calling the scoring drives the defense has given up, “highly, very disappointing,” Horton compared the defense to what he observes when watching LeBron James lead the NBA’s Miami Heat down the stretch with the expectation that he will always take over a game in crunch time.
“The word we used this week was accountability,” Horton said. “Some players would say, ‘Well, I’m going to wait for LeBron.' Some of the guys will wait for LeBron to go score, or whatever, in the fourth quarter. Well, Tashaun and T.J. played like they did, but the rest of the guys are accountable to do their jobs. Some of it is, the job is to assist, get the ball to him, get out of the way, block, rebound.
“Our guys’ job is to know what to do, how to do it, and make it happen. It’s an accountability thing. Just because the game’s in the fourth quarter and the game’s a seven-point game one way or another, or tied, you can’t tighten up and say, ‘I’m going to do something different,’ or ‘I’m going to wait for somebody.’ The game’s going to be close. We need somebody to step up and not take that back step and say, ‘I’m going to wait for somebody else.’ To me, that’s been the biggest disappointment. Our big-time players play well, but we also need our role players to do their roles.”
Once ranked among the league’s best defenses earlier this season, Horton said he knows that plays have to be made in order to be considered one of the better units, and that youth and inexperience are not excuses for the dip in production.
“That’s unacceptable at this point in the season,” Horton said of excuses. “You have to do your job. You have to be accountable, or, at some point, you move on. We have failed the last three weeks. I don’t care how you say the game went. The defense was on the field. We’ve talked about being the backbone of the team. Well, we can’t do that.”