By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Updated at 6:04 p.m.
The drum line was cool. Cell phones worked. Player intro’s were jazzed up. The punting was outstanding. Billy Cundiff didn’t miss a kick.
Ray Horton’s defense attacked as advertised – until it gassed out in the fourth quarter.
And the Browns’ offense sucked the energy out of another opening day.
The latest Browns’ reboot started the same way as all the others. They lost to the Miami Dolphins, 23-10. That makes nine Game 1 losses in a row and 14 out of 15 openers since the Browns returned in 1999.
So Rob Chudzinski becames the seventh coach in a row to start his Browns’ career 0-1. No Browns coach has won his first game on the job since Bud Carson in 1989.
“It is one game,” Chudzinski said. “That’s what I talked to the guys about afterwards. There’s a lot of football left to be played this season.”
That theme was repeated by others in the losing locker room. And it is true, but the lasting feeling of this loss was that Brandon Weeden looked no better than as a rookie in making quick decisions, delivering the ball under duress and leading his team to victory.
In a meaningful head-to-head encounter, Weeden was severely outplayed by Miami’s Ryan Tannehill. So let the quarterback chatter begin.
Tannehill, who was passed up by the Browns in favor of Trent Richardson in the 2012 draft by the previous regime, threw for 272 yards and one touchdown in leading the Dolphins to a coveted road win.
Tannehill wore down the Browns’ defense in the fourth quarter with an 85-yard touchdown drive. Daniel Thomas vaulted over from the 1 for the dagger. On the drive, Tannehill picked on cornerback Chris Owens for four of his six completions. Buster Skrine added the obligatory pass interference penalty in the end zone on a Tannehill fade to set up Thomas’ TD.
“They made plays. They have a good quarterback,” said safety Tashaun Gipson, whose interception on a ball deflected by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson set up Weeden’s only touchdown drive late in the second quarter.
Weeden was 26 of 53 for 289 yards. He threw a touchdown to Jordan Cameron at the end of the first half. He was intercepted three times – twice by ex-Brown Dimitri Patterson, who had to leave in the second half with a groin injury – and sacked six times.
You can say that Weeden was victimized by balls skimming off receivers’ hands – two of his interceptions deflected off the hands of Greg Little and Jordan Cameron -- and by total breakdowns on the right side of his line. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and right guard Oniel Cousins couldn’t handle Cameron Wake (2.5 sacks and six QB hits alone).
Cousins had four penalties for 33 yards, and one of them also negated an 18-yard gain.
“He’s the best we have (at right guard),” Chudzinski said to the question of why he didn’t try somebody else. “And he’s gonna get the job done for us. He’ll make improvements and get better and we’ll move on.”
The official stat sheet credited the Dolphins with 16 hits on Weeden, including the sacks. Weeden said it was the most he could remember ever being hit. But when he wasn’t under siege, he failed to make the throws or make his decisions quickly enough.
The Browns were a preposterous 1 of 14 on third downs.
Despite the Browns’ amped up pass rush, which resulted in four sacks and three additional QB hits, Tannehill converted 8 of 16 on third down. That was amazing considering the Dolphins gained a total of 20 yards rushing on 23 attempts and had no run longer than five yards.
Right end Desmond Bryant, who hardly played in the preseason, was all over the stat sheet – two sacks, two tackles for losses, four QB hits and one pass defensed.
Nose tackle Phil Taylor conceded the defense was gassed in the fourth quarter.
“You’re gonna get tired on the field that long,” he said. “It is what it is. We still got to go out there and do our job.”
Weeden said he got hit on all three of his interceptions, one of which was on a third-and-8 deep ball for Travis Benjamin at the Dolphins’ 1.
Trent Richardson started the game running like a lion released from a cage. He carried four times for 26 yards in the first six plays. After that first series, Richardson carries nine times for 21 yards. He had two catches for 30 yards.
“I wasn’t shocked (with the overall result),” Richardson said. “I knew we were a long way away from where we want to be. I’m glad we had this game right here. We know what we need to work on, where to get better.”
As his custom, Weeden claimed to do some good things out there.
“I felt I stood in there, kept the team battling in the fourth quarter,” he said. “Obviously a few throws I’d like back, like to do a few things differently.
“The mental mistakes as a player are the ones that eat at you more than anything. First game out of the box, me and Jason (Campbell) talked about it during the week, is the hardest game of the year. You don’t have a great idea what they’re gonna do. Our guys are jacked up, trying to make something happen and try to do too much.”
Weeden escaped three interceptions in the first half – and that number could easily have been five – and left the field with a 7-6 lead on a seven-yard touchdown to Cameron.
It was such a badly needed good throw-good catch sequence, the crowd let out a collective expression of relief as if a giant kidney stone had been passed.
Cameron atoned for a drop/interception earlier, making catches of 16 and 11 yards to move the Browns to the Dolphins 4. Thereafter ensued one of the most exasperating series of red zone plays executed by the Browns under any regime.
First down from the 4: Weeden, all day to throw, throws it away when he can’t find anyone open. A holding call on Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe gave the Browns a first down at the 2.
First down from the 2: Weeden frantically gets the ball to Davone Bess, who rolls out of bounds at the 1. But the Browns are penalized five yards for not having enough players at the line of scrimmage.
First down from the 7: Another Weeden frantic pass is deflected at the line of scrimmage, wiping out a flag on the Dolphins for interference.
Second down from the 7: Weeden plants and sees Cameron at the back of the end zone. Cameron nabs it and Cundiff converts the extra point in his first scoring chance in the post-Phil Dawson era for a 7-6 lead.
Cameron wound up with nine receptions for 108 yards.
|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 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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