Even in losing, Browns take big step

Posted Dec 9, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says that, while extremely painful, the Browns did manage to take a step forward in their 27-26 loss to the Patriots.

I felt good on Monday.

Better than I thought I would feel. Better than I’ve ever felt the day after a Browns loss.

The reason was simple: the Browns played well in losing to the New England Patriots on Sunday. It was, arguably, their best performance of the season, which does seem strange to say in light of the incredibly painful way that they wound up on the short end of a 27-26 score.

But there is no denying that the Browns did a whole lot right in that game.

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton crafted a scheme that had Tom Brady talking to himself and to his coaches on the sidelines, and not coming up with many helpful answers. For the most part, Brady was limited to short throws, most of which (17) targeted running back Shane Vereen.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner crafted a scheme that had the Patriots’ defense unable to handle the one-two receiving punch of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. He took advantage of the suspect coverage of their defensive backs and, on Gordon’s 80-yard touchdown, made them pay a steep price for having no one deep on a blitz look.

Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, and Barkevious Mingo combined for four sacks and led one of the stronger pass-rushes the Browns have had all season against one of the best-pass-protecting offenses in the NFL.

Jason Campbell threw the ball exceptionally well on the way to a 391-yard, three-touchdown, no-interception passing day that saw him, for the record, finish with a better quarterback rating (116.8) than Brady (91.7). Campbell couldn’t have played any better in registering the highest QB rating of his nine NFL seasons (the second- and third-best have also come this year, his first with the Browns).

I know, I know. Despite the Patriots receiving a great deal of help from a pair of dubious late penalties, the Browns still found a way to lose. They shouldn’t have given up two touchdowns after taking a 12-point lead with 2:39 to play. They should have recovered the onside kick that would have given them the victory.

I understand how this can come off as trying to make a case for a moral victory, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

I don’t believe in moral victories. I hate the idea of attempting to pull something positive out of a losing effort because, frankly, that has happened far too often with this team. You can’t settle for losing, regardless of how small the margin or how improbable the circumstances that lead to the loss.

This loss doesn’t count any less than the back-to-back ugly outcomes against the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. It isn’t any prettier than the abomination at Cincinnati or the embarrassment against Jacksonville.

And I can assure you that no one was feeling the least bit celebratory at the Browns’ Berea headquarters on Monday. Perhaps the sentiment that best captured the mood was this exchange I had with one of the assistant coaches:

Me: “Tough one, Coach.”

The assistant: “Just kick me in the (you know where) now.”

The hurt lingers after a chance to score what easily would have been the biggest triumph this franchise has seen in years is squandered.

Yet, it means something that the Browns legitimately outplayed and outcoached the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. It means something that the Browns were the better team even if, at day’s end, the scoreboard indicated otherwise.

It means that all of the foundation-building talk isn’t so much lip service. It means that, when the Browns have anything at or above the level of competent quarterbacking, they can more than hold their own with an NFL heavyweight. It means that, in never flinching when most of their fan base and the entire league expected them to suffer a lopsided defeat, they took a big step.

It means that there are some very good pieces in place on the roster (which potentially has five Pro Bowlers in Gordon, Cameron, Joe Thomas, Joe Haden, and T.J. Ward) and by adding more of them, it’s conceivable the Browns will reach heavyweight status themselves in the not-too-distant future.

That’s why I felt good on Monday.

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