By Tony Grossi
Trent Richardson limped out of Sports Authority Field at Mile High with his left foot in a walking boot. His ankle was buried in a pileup in the backfield on the next-to-last play of a 34-12 hopeless cause loss to the Denver Broncos.
“I’m good,” he said, quietly. “Wouldn’t be walking if it was broken.”
Brandon Weeden walked through the Browns’ locker room without taking questions. His right shoulder was crushed under a Von Miller sack in the third quarter.
“I’m alright … talk to you Wednesday,” Weeden said.
Sheldon Brown, knocked out of the game with a concussion on a cheap shot to the helmet by Denver receiver Brandon Stokley, walked out solemnly wearing earphones.
On the bus outside the stadium, Josh Cribbs got lured into a Twitter outburst with angry fans that he no doubt regrets.
Colt McCoy, who finished the game under siege, getting sacked four times in 29 snaps, had that glazed look in his eyes discussing the prospect of finishing the season in Pittsburgh. McCoy and others on offense were not pleased that coach Pat Shurmur set up a final possession in a rout by using three timeouts on Denver’s last series.
These are the sights and sounds of another Browns season – another Browns era – screeching to another frightful denouement.
“Our record sucks,” said Joe Haden, after the Browns fell to 5-10 – their fifth season in a row of double digit losses and ninth in 10 years. “Everybody is disappointed.”
Peyton Manning carved up the Browns’ nickel defense with his mind and his arm, throwing for 339 yards and three touchdowns for a record-tying 72nd time. Manning, who played into the fourth quarter, kept the Browns on their heels with his adroit use of the no-huddle and by changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Manning orchestrated the (12-3) Broncos' 10th straight win to keep them alive for bye in the first round of the AFC playoffs.
Each of Manning's three touchdown passes – one to Demaryius Thomas and two to Eric Decker – came against decent coverage.
Brown lamented during the week that Manning completes passes even when coverage is solid. Brown was victimized twice – on Manning’s perfect throw of 28 yards to Thomas and one of 10 to Decker.
“He just puts it on the money all the time,” said second-year cornerback Buster Skrine, who was on Decker for Manning’s third TD, from eight yards. “When you have good coverage you have no coverage. He just stuck it in there. He’s by far the best quarterback I’ve played against.”
“We played the best quarterback in the game today,” said defensive end Frostee Rucker, who has several games against Manning.
Manning’s only miscue was an errant throw into the end zone at the end of the half that was intercepted by safety Usama Young.
The Browns were down, 14-3, and received the second-half kickoff by virtue of deferring after winning the coin toss. The strategy, which gave Manning the ball to start the game and put the Browns in an almost immediate 7-0 hole, was defended by, of all players, Cribbs.
“We’re first in the league in kickoff coverage,” Cribbs said. “You want their offense to start slow. They key to it is getting the kickoff in the second half. That’s when the game is decided.”
Weeden did make a stab at a touchdown drive to open the second half, but it stalled when he missed Josh Gordon open inside the Broncos’ 5-yard line. It was a sure touchdown and Weeden’s pass hit the ground about three yards short. So the Browns settled for another field goal there.
On their first field goal in the first half, Weeden got unglued again the closer he got to the end zone. One pass from the Broncos’ 8 was deflected at the line. Then, on third-and-goal from the 9, Weeden checked down to Josh Cooper. The pass fell incomplete, but it wouldn’t have mattered, anyway.
After Manning’s third TD increased the Denver lead to 21-6, the Broncos’ pass rush was unstoppable. Weeden was swallowed up on Miller’s sack, leading to McCoy’s first extended playing time of the season.
McCoy was able to throw together an 80-yard on his second full possession, getting the TD on a 6-yard pass to Greg Little, who stretched the ball over the goal line while being tackled.
But after that, the Broncos pinned their ears back and teed off on McCoy.
Shurmur’s use of the timeouts to retain one final possession in the closing minutes was a hot topic among players. They were visibly upset on the field and in the locker room.
All that it accomplished was getting Richardson hurt.
Richardson’s left ankle was injured when McCoy fell on him after getting knocked down by ex-Browns safety Mike Adams on the next-to-last play of the game. McCoy was unaware of the injury until after the game. Richardson was carted off the field and had X-rays immediately afterwards.
“Trent, I really felt like he was running the ball as well as he’s ran in a while,” McCoy said. “He was running downhill – lots of plays he likes to run that were getting called.”
Richardson carried the ball only nine times but for 53 yards. They pushed him to 950 on the season – eight more than Jim Brown’s franchise rookie record in a 12-game season in 1957.
But the injury may cost Richardson a shot at the 1,000-yard figure he wanted to reach this year.
Asked about the timeouts to set up the final possession, McCoy said, “That’s a question you have to ask Pat. I took off (running) a couple times because that’s all I could do.”
The season ends in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, it did not come soon enough before things reeled out of control once again.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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