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Not ready for the spotlight

Posted Nov 17, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci offers his thoughts on the Browns’ 41-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

CINCINNATI – Here are my final thoughts from the Browns’ 41-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:

>>A game like this required an optimum level of readiness that the Browns simply didn’t have as a team. With the chance to position themselves for a shot at the AFC North title or a wild-card playoff spot on the line, they needed to be as close to perfect as possible. Instead, they were as sloppy and reckless as they’ve been all season. Their offense and special teams combined for enough errors to undo the early momentum-seizing impact of two interceptions, including a career-first pick-six, by Joe Haden. It was the sort of performance that said the Browns simply aren’t where they need to be to compete at a level of a legitimate contender. Legitimate contenders know how to respond under these circumstances. They keep their composure. They make plays. They avoid mistakes, such as Jason Campbell’s three interceptions … and Spencer Lanning having one punt blocked and returned for a touchdown and another deflected … and defenders trying to force a fumble and missing a tackle that results in a touchdown, or not turning around in coverage and allowing a long throw to be caught ... and Chris Ogbonnaya losing a fumble, after a catch, and having it returned for a touchdown. When they have an opponent in the 13-0 hole the Browns created for the Bengals after Haden’s 29-yard interception return for a touchdown, they don’t let them escape. The Browns aren’t ready to be that kind of team yet.

>>It was easy to get caught up in the euphoria of Campbell’s impressive Week 9 performance against Baltimore that followed his strong Week 8 second half at Kansas City. We loved the fact that he not only delivered big plays, but he also steered clear of turnovers. We loved the toughness he displayed in overcoming bruised ribs to throw for three touchdowns against the Ravens. And, frankly, we were feeling particularly good about Campbell because his output was in stark contrast to the poor play of his predecessor as the Browns’ starting quarterback, Brandon Weeden. On Sunday, we were reminded that the Browns have not resolved anything at their most important position, even with the expectation that Brian Hoyer makes a full recovery from his recent season-ending knee surgery. Campbell struggled badly from the very start on the way to throwing three interceptions and finishing with a passer rating of 44.3. Aside from a 74-yard touchdown connection with Josh Gordon, Campbell repeatedly held the ball too long in the pocket. He rarely challenged the Bengals’ defense with the high level of aggressiveness he had displayed in the previous two games. Too often, Campbell settled for safer options underneath the coverage. Give Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer credit for putting together a scheme that clearly confounded Campbell, but the Browns have to be better with their response.

>>Please, don’t blame the Browns’ shoddy showing on their bye. Don’t say that it interrupted the momentum they built from snapping an 11-game losing streak to Baltimore. That won’t fly as an excuse. The bye should have caused the players to feel refreshed and ready to perform at their best. That should have been especially true for Campbell, who needed the extra time for his ribs to heal. Every team has a bye, and some are scheduled less advantageously than others. The Browns’ actually came at a perfect time, just past the midway point of the season. The mark of a team that knows how to respond to the challenge of playing a game as important as Sunday’s is being able to handle other challenges that get in the way.

>>In case anyone forgot, the Browns reminded us Sunday that they still have some pieces missing from the championship puzzle they’re trying to build. This team, which was not regarded as a contender before the season, jumped a little bit ahead of schedule by finding itself with a chance to move within a half-game of the division-leading Bengals. That was a function of several things, not the least of which was the Bengals suffering back-to-back overtime losses. The Bengals confirmed that they are the better team. They’re definitely the more balanced club. The Browns have a genuinely strong defense, and that’s about it. They need help at quarterback, wide receiver, the offensive line, running back, and tight end. They probably should take an immediate look at upgrading themselves at punter, and if not, they should put that on the help-wanted list as well. With more of those pieces, most of which should be found in May’s draft, the Browns should take a bigger step in their evolution next season.

>>Gordon’s touchdown catch was nice, but the Browns still aren’t getting enough production from him or the other half of what once was a dynamic play-making duo: tight end Jordan Cameron. Gordon and Cameron were virtually non-existent against the Ravens in Week 4. Against the Bengals, Gordon was targeted 15 times, but had a mere five receptions. Cameron had seven targets, and caught six passes for a mere 4.8-yards-per-catch average. Unlike the Week 4 game, the Browns had no one else step up to make difference-making catches. That was a problem, but the larger issue is the ability of yet another opponent to mostly take away Gordon and Cameron.

>>Caruccis Call is presented by Revol Wireless. Come Save With Us.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.