By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Updated at 6:04 p.m.
The elephant in the Browns’ locker room all week was what happens if the team had to rely on quarterback Brandon Weeden to pull out a game.
The answer came and it wasn’t pretty in a 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Second-half adjustments by the Lions resulted in 17 points and a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter. And with the game on the line, Weeden made an inexcusable blunder.
In trouble at the Lions’ 44-yard line, Weeden tried to flick the ball away to save a sack. His awkward release propelled the ball up instead of down in the direction of Chris Ogbonnaya, and it was intercepted by linebacker DeAndre Levy with 4:36 to play.
“I was trying to flip it over Obie’s head,” Weeden said. “(Defensive tackle C.J. Mosley) had my left ankle and I couldn’t turn and throw. Absolutely, I should have taken a sack.
“Any time you try underhand stuff, bad things happen.”
The loss ended the Browns’ three-game winning streak and evened their record at 3-3, keeping them tied with Baltimore, which lost, and a game behind Cincinnati, which won.
They have road games at Green Bay and Kansas City the next two weeks.
Weeden seemed to have control of the game -- his first start in relief of injured Brian Hoyer and his first since Game 2. He held a 17-7 lead and was using a diverse running game to keep out of harm’s way. His one previous interception didn’t kill the team.
The second one killed any chance of a win. Will it have a more lingering effect in the locker room?
“I don’t feel differently about anybody. What we need to do is learn and grow,” said coach Rob Chudzinski.
“We’re still behind him. He’s still the guy,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. “We have to play better defense. We had a 17-7 lead.”
The lead evaporated swiftly in the second half when the Lions rediscovered running back Reggie Bush in the running and passing game. Quarterback Matthew Stafford (25 of 43 for 248 yards and four TDs) worked Bush and his tight ends relentlessly against the Browns’ linebackers. By then it was obvious that elite receiver Calvin Johnson was more of a decoy than a contributor.
Johnson, who started the game despite a tender knee, had three catches and two drops in eight targets. He drew a pass interference from Joe Haden in the end zone to set up Detroit’s lone score in the first half.
Bush, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria more than made up for Johnson’s sub-par game. Bush scored one TD and Fauria had three.
“I did a bad job of making plays on our side of the ball,” said linebacker Craig Robertson. “I felt like it was my fault on a lot of the plays. I mean, letting Reggie Bush out like that. I had him and he got out sometimes, but I own up to it. I have to keep battling.”
Held to 14 rushing yards and nothing in the passing game the first half, Bush ignited his team in the third quarter. His 34-yard run and 18-yard scoring catch closed the Browns’ lead to 17-14.
Stafford then pummeled the Browns’ inside linebackers with play after play to Pettigrew and Fauria in the middle of the field. Fauria, playing for injured No. 2 tight end Tony Scheffler, wound up with three touchdown catches – two in the second half – as the Lions pulled away.
Bush had 64 yards rushing and 57 receiving in the second half.
“Reggie Bush had our number,” said linebacker Quentin Groves.
“I think we made the proper adjustment,” Bush said. “We felt like they were stacking the box early in the first half. The second half we made the adjustment and felt like there were some one-on-one opportunities we could take advantage of.”
The Lions riddled off 24 unanswered points. It could have been worse except Buster Skrine made a terrific deflection of a Stafford pass in the end zone for Patrick Edwards and safety Tashaun Gipson intercepted it.
But the offense was relapsing into pre-Hoyer form. Weeden oversaw three three-and-out possessions in a row. He threw to Josh Gordon (seven catches for 126 yards) for a first down on the fourth, before punting again. By then, the running game, which accounted for 115 yards on 16 attempts in the first half, was forsaken.
“I think three straight ‘outs’ played a big part in (the loss),” said Willis McGahee, who ran four times for 4 yards in the second half and 10 for 37 overall.
It was a completely different game the first half, when the Browns scored three times and held a halftime lead (17-7) for the sixth time in six games.
They did an excellent job of mixing up the run and pass and Weeden was markedly quicker and more accurate with his throws.
His touchdowns were short – 4 yards to Chris Ogbonnaya in the left flat, and 2 yards to Greg Little in perfect in the right corner to beat the outstretched arms of safety Glover Quin.
Weeden also made a few longer throws on deep crossing routes. His one interception was an ill-advised throw down the right sideline for Ogbonnaya, who was doubled by linebacker Levy and a safety. Levy got the interception.
But it was the Browns’ running game that kept the fearsome rush of the Lions, particularly Ndamukong Suh, from digging in and disrupting Weeden’s rhythm.
They had six different players run from scrimmage, including a 45-yard scamper on an end-around by Travis “the Rabbit” Benjamin.
Weeden finished with 292 yards on 26 of 43 passing. The Browns are now 0-3 with Weeden as their starting quarterback.
Weeden said his confidence won’t affected by one “bone-headed” play. We’ll see if that’s the case with his teammates.
|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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