By Tony Grossi
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
Coaches coach and players play. But the crucial plays of a game are inseparable combinations of both actions.
And so it came to pass on Sunday in MetLife Stadium that Browns coach Pat Shurmur decided to call, well, a pass on third-and-1 from the New York Giants’ 25.
It was the turning point in the Browns’ record-tying 11th straight loss, 41-27.
Trent Richardson, who was running all over the New York defense, was removed from the field and replaced by third-down back Chris Ogbonnaya. Richardson had 11 runs for 56 yards and a 15-yard touchdown up to then.
Brandon Weeden’s pass was intended not for Ogbonnaya but for Josh Gordon, whose 62-yard TD catch earlier had shocked the Giants and everyone in the monstrous stadium. That beauty throw and catch gave the Browns a 14-0 lead.
They were up, 17-10, when Shurmur called pass, Weeden threw high and wild and Giants safety Stevie Brown intercepted.
In the span of the next 3 minutes, 46 seconds of the first half, the Giants:
* Scored one TD on a four-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw.
* Recovered a Josh Cribbs fumble on the kickoff.
* Scored another TD on an Eli Manning pass to Victor Cruz from seven yards.
* Forced a punt and kicked a 40-yard field goal.
A 17-10 Browns lead blew up into a 27-17 deficit at halftime. Ballgame.
“Wow!” Shurmur said after emerging from the avalanche.
“Wow!” also was the appropriate reaction to the play selection. Shurmur would not admit it was a regrettable call.
“It was a bad throw,” Shurmur said. “There’s reasons why it became a bad throw. You don’t throw interceptions on third-and-1.”
Asked why he didn’t just hand off, Shurmur said, “You could run it or you could throw it. We chose to throw there. I think it was longer than third-and-1.” (It was not.)
The post-game conference descended from there.
Asked if Weeden’s bad throw could be chalked up to growing pains of a rookie QB in his fifth NFL game, Shurmur said, “It was a bad decision and a nice play by the defense. I don’t care if you’re a rookie. I don’t care if you’ve been in the league a long time. You don’t do that. I think we need to get off this rookie kick. We need to play ball.”
Richardson had been stuffed for a 2-yard loss on a third-and-1 carry previously, which resulted in a short Phil Dawson field goal. Shurmur was asked if that failure contributed to the decision to call pass the next time.
“We have third-and-1 passes and runs,” he said. “We mix them up during the game. Had we completed that third-and-1, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. (It) could have been easy to say, ‘Man, Pat, on the previous third-and-1 to that one, when Trent got bottled up, why the hell didn’t you throw it?’
“Isn’t that how that works? And I see you guys writing furiously. But that’s how that works. I get it.”
For their part, Weeden and Richardson took a much higher road when discussing the play of the game.
“I was just trying to make a play. It was stupid. I should’ve airmailed it,” Weeden said.
Richardson, who received 24 touches on the day -- rushing for 81 yards and his fourth TD run in four games and adding 47 yards receiving – declined to question the wisdom of removing him from the money down.
“Today I was in on a lot of third downs,” he said. “There’s no complaining by me. Coach made the right decision.”
Weeden was a basket case after the interception. His numbers finished at 22 of 35 for 291 yards. He added a second interception and a second TD pass of 20 yards to Gordon. Jordan Norwood also had nine catches (in nine targets) for 81 yards. Meanwhile, Greg Little posted goose eggs – no drops, no catches (in two targets).
Manning (103.3 passer rating) feasted on the Browns’ secondary for 259 passing yards and three touchdowns to Victor Cruz. Manning also got rookie Reuben Randle involved for a team-high six catches for 82 yards. Four of them came on Manning’s first TD series when he attacked cornerback Buster Skrine as if Skrine had stolen his platinum credit card.
“On that drive, they were coming after me. Everybody saw it,” Skrine said. “Good throws, good catching. He’s a pretty good quarterback.”
Manning added two touchdown drives in the second half after the Browns lost cornerback Dimitri Patterson to an ankle injury and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to a concussion.
The Jackson injury late in the second quarter fueled a personal high 200-yard rushing day (one TD) for Ahmad Bradshaw. He reached that number when Giants coach Tom Coughlin reinserted him in the fourth quarter to run out the clock after a 40-yard TD run by rookie David Wilson. Bradshaw just kept eating up yards. Coughlin had to call for Manning kneel-downs after the two-minute warning to avoid tacking on another touchdown.
The secondary woes opened things up for Manning. This was the fourth and final game of an NFL suspension served by cornerback Joe Haden. In his absence, the Browns gave up 10 touchdown passes and had two interceptions.
The loss dropped the Browns to 0-5 and matched their franchise record for 11 losses in a row, set in 1974-75.
“I’m (ticked) off,” Weeden said. “I don’t like being 0-5. I’ve got to change something to give this team a chance to win.”
|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
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