CLEVELAND, Ohio – Scribbles in my notebook after the Browns’ 17-10 loss to New Orleans:
1. A few times in his postgame interview, New Orleans coach Dennis Allen said: “We talked all week about how this game was going to be about mental toughness, and I thought our guys showed incredible grit.”
2. Allen was right – about his Saints. As he also explained, “We went down 10-0 (in the second quarter) and … were able to take the lead. Then the defense finishes the game.”
3. More from Allen: “The most mentally tough team was going to win … heart and grit, it’s what they (the Saints players) have.”
4. Here’s the sad part. Those are the kind of words Browns fans should have expected to hear from coach Kevin Stefanski after the game – a game that was there for the Browns to win. A warm weather/dome team playing on the road … on Christmas Eve … in well below zero wind chills … that was set up for the Browns to win. And that was especially true after taking the 10-0 lead.
5. Browns veteran Joel Bitonio said: “We have had too many games that we’ve not been able to close out this year – Jets, Falcons, Chargers and this game. It’s four or five games … Good teams find a way to win those close ones and find a way to close the door. We’ve not done that enough this year.”
6. The Browns are 6-9. They are now guaranteed of one thing – a losing record … again. They could lose even more games than a year ago, when they were 8-9. Even with Deshaun Watson sitting out the first 11 games with a suspension, did those in Berea who make big decisions expect the Browns to be 6-9 at this point in the season? Did they think they’d be 4-7 with Jacoby Brissett at QB when his offense was 11th in the NFL in scoring?
7. Interesting point made by Myles Garrett: “I don’t think the intensity dropped, but I think the attention to detail of being where you are supposed to be – and making those plays when they come to you, that really came back to bite us.”
8. Something has been missing with this team for most of the season. They will play a good game, such as last week’s 13-3 cold-weather win over Baltimore and the 32-13 Halloween night victory over Cincinnati. But they don’t sustain much. Since the Browns were 11-5 and made the 2020 playoffs, they are 14-18. Given the talent level, that’s underachieving.
9. I wrote a lot about the strange play calling in my game column. Coach Kevin Stefanski and Watson were looking to hit some big pass plays in the second half. They had receivers open. They had some balls overthrown. They had two drops that could have been TDs.
10. But this day with 25 to 55 mph wind gusts and below zero wind chills made it hard for receivers to run their usual routes. Players were slipping. Quarterbacks had to throw the ball hard to cut through the wind, but that also makes it tough to catch on frigid days. If you noticed, the Saints rarely tried passes other than short and a few medium throws. They didn’t fight the weather, they adapted. Andy Dalton was 8 of 15 for 92 yards passing.
11. New Orleans used Taysom Hill several times in the wildcat running formation. Snap it to him, try to stop him. He had 56 yards on nine carries, including a rugged 8-yard TD run.
12. Allen: “I thought we did the things we needed to do to win the game. That was running the ball effectively and stopping the run effectively on defense.”
13. The Browns ran it 34 times, but averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. Kareem Hunt had only 8 yards on seven carries. Nick Chubb rushed for 92 yards on 24 attempts. The longest run of the day was 19 yards by Chubb.
14. The Browns only TD was a 12-yard designed run for Watson. This weather begged for the Browns to let Watson use his legs and athleticism more. But he only had three total carries for 24 yards. The Saints continuously used the wildcat formation with running back Alvin Kamara and part-time QB Hill. They lined up and dared the Browns to stop them. Nothing tricky. And when it meant the most in the second half, New Orleans won the test of will.
15. Comment from Bitonio: “We have investments up front (the offensive line) and in the running back room. On a day like today, it’s cold out, windy and hard to throw … we are trying to run the ball and they are trying to stop the run … it didn’t work out.”
16. In terms of investments, the Browns have their offensive linemen on long-term contracts: Wyatt Teller, Jack Conklin and Bitonio. Chubb also has a long-term deal. The Saints had allowed at least 148 yards rushing in four of their last six games. New Orleans beat Atlanta 21-18 last week, but gave up 231 yards rushing. This was not a good run defense the Browns faced, but they didn’t capitalize on it.
17. Still can’t figure out why Watson tried a relatively long sideline pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter. The pass got up in the wind and sailed over the receiver’s head. In case you were wondering, Watson didn’t change the game, according to Stefanski. Why not run, or just a play-fake to a running back and quick short pass for the first down?
18. A final thought: The fans who did show up deserved better than what the Browns gave them Saturday – and all season. For the record, the Saints are now 6-9 and have won two in a row for the first time this season.
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