There was no way that this year’s Cleveland Browns could be any worse than last season’s was there? With about ten minutes left in the first half, my feelings slowly disappeared, but little did I know they would come back with a fiery passion.
Here are my news and notes from yesterday’s inspiring and heartbreaking loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-27.
Kardiac Arrest: As Head Coach Mike Pettine said in his post-game press conference. there are no moral victories in a loss. However, give credit where credit is due to the Browns. They could have peeled over and died, but they didn’t.
The brown and orange refused to give up after trailing 24-3 at the half. Your head was thinking of a certain player that wears no. 2 as reality began to set in and Brian Hoyer, who completed just four passes in the first half.
As I watched the Browns score 24 unanswered points in the second half to come back and tie the Steelers, there was only one thought going through my mind – “No one will remember this comeback if they don’t finish this game and pull out the victory.”
I remember thinking of a Johnny Manziel moment I saw during the 2014 Chick-fil-A Bowl where he screams at his teammates. He yelled, “Take it! Take it!”
Then, there was the vintage coach Sam Rutigliano in me saying over and over, “One time! One time!” as the Browns made stop after stop in the second half.
I think what impressed me most about the Browns comeback effort was that they did it all without their two best players, Jordan Cameron and Ben Tate. Both players left with injuries.
If the Browns would have pulled it off, it would’ve been the greatest comeback in team history.
Run Terrance Run!: How can you not like the rookie out of Towson, Terrance West, the rookie out of Towson? After a less-than-stellar preseason where he averaged 2.7 yards per carry, West ran with authority on Sunday after spelling Tate and finished with 100 yards on 16 carries.
Against a weak Steelers defense, West averaged 6.3 yards per carry and ripped off a nice 28-yarder during the comeback effort. If Tate is out for an extended period of time, the Browns will not miss a beat with West carrying the load.
I love the one-two punch of both West and Isaiah Crowell. The undrafted rookie from Alabama State scored twice and his momentum carried over to the regular season.
Must Capitalize: To go into a hostile environment like Heinz Field and beat a division rival, the Browns needed to deliver on any opportunity given to them. There were two huge missed opportunities that stood out to me. The first was the interception by Karlos Dansby.
Early in the second quarter, the Steelers had the momentum and lead 10-3. Ben Roethlisberger and his offense were starting another drive when Dansby picked him off. The ball was at the Steelers 34 yard line.
The crucial play after was Brian Hoyer getting sacked for a ten-yard loss by Jarvis Jones. This knocked the Browns out of field goal range and Cleveland ended up punting.
To defeat the Steelers, you must score points off of turnovers in their territory. The Browns did not.
The second mishap and fail came in the fourth quarter with 9:28 left and a 27-27 tie game. Rookie cornerback and first round pick Justin Gilbert, who had a forgettable pro debut, left a gunner wide open on a punt formation. The Steelers easily recognized and silent audibled to catch the Browns sleeping.
The result- a Steeler first down as punter Brad Wing threw a 25-yard pass to Anton Blake. However, four plays later the defense stopped and forced another punt.
Why is this a mishap though if the Browns still got a stop?
Because the Browns had all of the momentum before that fake punt and also had field position control in the final quarter. Pittsburgh was dumbfounded and had no clue what had hit them. Cleveland’s fast paced offense and physical defense had the Steelers tired.
As the Steelers moved further down field, the field position battle was lost in the final eight minutes of the contest and it’s the reason why the Steelers had excellent field position on the game-winning drive to end the game.
Ricky Bobby: I have been a huge advocate of Travis Benjamin. I believe he is an elite punt returner and shows some flashes in the offense at times. But, let’s get something straight-Benjamin is not a kick returner. The 24-year-old averaged 21 yards a return on four attempts. Benjamin does not look comfortable returning kickoffs and has no north/south vision.
He is best suited as a punt returner and rookie Taylor Gabriel, who showed great returning ability in the preseason, should be the kick returner from here on out.
Halftime Speech: Pettine told the media after the game in his press conference regarding what he told his players at halftime, “As much as I’d like to say it was a fire and brimstone speech, it really wasn’t.”
One of my favorite sports movies of all time, Bull Durham, has a great scene where the coach lays into his players after a poor performance. The skipper goes into the shower and throws a handful of bats at his players and completely lights them up calling them “a bunch of pansies”.
That’s how I’d like to imagine Pettine’s halftime speech went.
No Johnny Cleveland: Despite all reports about a Johnny Football coming before the game that filtered the NFL Network, Manziel never saw the field. However, at one point I saw an assistant coach come up to Johnny during the first half slaughter and Manziel nodded with a smile.
If my body language and lip-reading skills are correct, I believe what was said to Johnny was, “Get ready.”
Final Thoughts: A loss is a loss. But, don’t tell me for one second you don’t feel a lot better about the Browns and what they did in the second half of that contest.
If anything, we all saw the resilience and heart that this team has not had in a long, long time.
On to the New Orleans Saints and the home opener.
Ryan Ruiz is the Cleveland Browns Beat Writer for The Inscriber: Digital Magazine. You can follow him on Facebook: Ryan (BrownsWriter) Ruiz and Twitter @ryanpruiz24. Ryan is also a Browns correspondent for The Sportsfix. Tune in every Friday at noon on www.thesportsfix.net. Email Ryan at [email protected]://184.108.40.206/~theinscr