The Last Drive
The Cleveland Browns lost their 11th straight game this season, and they endured one of the nastiest displays of disrespect in recent memory, and there is every indication that they will start imploding now. So, of course, I want to talk about a completely meaningless drive at the end of the game.
Before getting to that, though, yes, we talk a bit about the other stuff. The Browns played much-despised Pittsburgh on Sunday. And the Browns stunk. I guess that goes without saying, but the offense's stinkiosity in this game was symphonic. In my lifetime as a Browns fan, I have never seen an offensive line play worse. I mean, no, I don't often spend my time grading out offensive linemen but there was something particularly porous about the line -- eight sacks, a concussed quarterback, 33-yards rushing, all against a Steelers defense that hadn't been very good until Sunday, even these things do not illustrate the glorious confusion, comedic timing and general disinterest of this offensive line.
And, understand, the line did this even with though superhero Joe Thomas continues to play left tackle with distinction and honor. I honestly don't know how the guy does it. He's like Superman and Clark Kent put together. I mean, for years and years now, he has played for terrible, terrible football teams. He never knows who his quarterback is. He never knows who is with him on the offensive line. The gameplan changes daily, coaches walk the plank with Blackbeard regularity, trade rumors always swirl around him, and the sickening losses just pile up, one after another, like unread New Yorker magazines.*
*I will get to them. I promise I will get to them.
And week after week, month after month lost season after lost season, Joe Thomas plays some hardcore, back-breakin', pancakin', no BS takin' football. Man, I love that guy. As the old punchline goes, why can't the whole plane be made of Joe Thomas? And after this game, Joe Thomas finally spoke out against a team that couldn't find a way to keep guard Mitchell Schwartz and center Alex Mack, two professionals, and continues to put their quarterbacks into a shooting gallery. "You've got to lie in the bed that you've made," Thomas told reporters after the game, and yes, the Browns built this bed of nails with obscenely bad draft picks and various money-saving decisions. Joe Thomas sure deserves better.
Anyway, even with the offensive line getting flattened, it was still only 6-0 Pittsburgh in the final seconds of the first half. The Browns defense was not playing well, exactly, but they were tightening up around the goal line, and the Steelers are not very good. Pittsburgh did go on one more drive just before the end of the half, and they moved the ball to th Browns three with only five seconds remaining.
At this point, of course, the Steelers like any other team reluctantly but confidently kicked the field goal to give them a two-score lead, the Browns defense had held them out of the end zone again ...
... only the Steelers didn't. With five seconds left, the Steelers thought so little of the Browns' chances to come back that they decided to try and score the touchdown. It was a bold move -- and a smart one, I think. More teams should be bold like that. And Steelers coach Mike Tomlin does have some boldness in him. Still, I think this move was less bold and more of a direct insult at the Browns' awfulness. They were basically saying, "Eh, if we don't score here, we'll score later. It will be fine."
And then: Justice! Ben Roethlisberger's pass fell incomplete as the clock expired. So, ha, the Browns may be horrendous, but for one minute in time, they showed those mean old Steelers that they can't just come into Cleveland and disrespect ... oh, wait there's a penalty flag.
Holding. Defense. The Steelers get to run one untimed down.
Ah well, so it goes, right. Now the Steelers can kick that field goal and ... oh, wait a minute, they're going for it again. Yep, sticking it into Cleveland's face one more time, total lack of respect, and, what do you know? Justice! Roethlisberger's pass is incomplete AGAIN. So, ha, the Browns may be horrendous, but for one minute in time they showed those mean old Steelers that they can't just come into Cleveland and disrespect ... oh, wait there's a penalty flag.
Pass interference. Defense. The Steelers can run an untimed down.
At this point, yeah, you know what happened. The Steelers went for it a THIRD TIME, of course, only this time it was from the 1 so they didn't even bother trying to throw the ball. Roethlisberger just handed it off to Le'Veon Bell, who stayed on his feet even as he ran into the back of the end zone. There's the touchdown.
And then, the Steelers -- just for fun -- made a two-conversion. It's like the old Richard Pryor line about Muhammad Ali's boxing style of grabbing a boxer who gets too frisky: "Take your- little ass on back on over there ... and (jab) take this with you." The humiliated Browns took their 14-0 deficit with them into the locker room because there was nothing else to do.
One more point on this: Per Gil Brandt, Ben Roethlisberger has now tied Derek Anderson for most quarterback wins at FirstEnergy Field in Cleveland. That's low.
After the Steelers' diss, quarterback Cody Kessler took a beating and ended up in the concussion protocol, which should be the nickname name for the Browns locker room. But the Steelers kept farting around and refusing to put the Browns away.
Cleveland scored a touchdown to make it 17-9 and theoretically get back into the game, at which point Cody Parkey missed the extra point because, well, of course he did. The Browns got the ball back with 3:49 remaining with the theoretical chance of scoring the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion, but then there was the usual Browns offensive line jailbreak, Browns quarterback Josh McCown got hit and vomited the ball forward into the hands of Javon Hargrave who plopped on top of it to score the put-away touchdown.
There was then a great shot of Browns coach Hue Jackson just shaking his head sadly.
Only one coach, Detroit's Rod Marinelli, has ever endured an 0-16 season. He did not survive after that, but it was his third season. This is just Jackson's first season and, as I have written, I hope the Browns stick with him just to keep a little order in the organization. That said, it's hard to think of one thing Hue has done this year -- other than refuse to make excuses and entertain us all with his comically frustrated looks after the Browns manage their various feats of mayhem -- that inspires any confidence at all. Well, at least we have those looks.
So all of this made for, more or less, a typical Browns week.
But now we get to that meaningless final drive, which for some reason bothered me more than anything else. I don't even know why I was still watching, to be honest. There's something about pointless final drives that interest me for some reason -- I like seeing how people respond when there's absolutely nothing on the line.
I suppose you could argue that when the Browns got the ball back with 3:36 left and down by 15 they had a hypothetical chance of winning by scoring a touchdown, getting the two-point conversation, getting the onside kick back and then scoring another touchdown to tie the game. But, no, let's talk reality here.
So, this was just a drive for pride. The Browns started with a delay of game penalty because of course they did. They had two timeouts, which of course there was no reason to use, but they had them as they coughed and wheezed and limped down the field. Bruce Springsteen asks, "Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making his way down the street?" Yes, Bruce, I have -- weekly.
On fourth and 8, McCown somehow completed an 8-yard pass to Terrelle Pryor. On fourth and 10, McCown completed a minus-10 yard pass to Duke Johnson, who fumbled and watched the Steelers return it for a touchdown ... but the Browns got the ball back thanks to a pity roughing-the-passer call.*
*Mike Tomlin was HOT about that call. He probably had a point -- the defensive lineman brushed McCown's head as he tried to get away from an offensive lineman. But Mike, seriously, you won the game. Relax.
On fourth and 1, the Browns' Isaiah Crowell gained two yards to the Pittsburgh 27.
There were 31 seconds left then, and the Browns used their first of those two remaining timeouts.
You may ask: Why would the Browns call timeout there? Well, there could be only one reason -- they were going to TRY against all odds to win the game. Throw to end zone, hope for a touchdown, get the two-point conversion, onside kick, Hail Mary, they were going to TRY ...
On the next play, Josh McCown threw a little flat pass to Corey Coleman. It fell incomplete.
Well, that didn't make a whole lot of sense. Why would they call timeout to throw a flat pass?
On the next play, McCown kind of scrambled around and ran for five yards.
That too didn't make any sense.
On the next play, McCown threw another short pass, again incomplete.
So, wait a minute, what was happening here? The Browns called timeout and they weren't even going to TRY to score a touchdown? What's the point of all this? To practice short passes against a real live NFL defense? To get McCown hurt? To infuriate the 47 fans who were still in the stands? Why wasn't McCown at least trying to squeeze a pass into the end zone? Was he worried about getting intercepted down 15 points with less than a half-minute remaining? Somebody help me with this.
On fourth and five, McCown threw a little pass to Seth DeValve, who should change his first name to "Safety," for eight yards and a first down. The clock was about to run out when the Browns, yes, called their final timeout. Two seconds remained.
It's hard being a fan of the worst team in football. You have to get your joy in small things in seasons filled with black comedy and horror movie scenes. So with two seconds left, and another game lost, I settled in to see just how the Browns were going to try and score a meaningless touchdown against the much despised Pittsburgh Steelers.
And what do you think Josh McCown did? Right. He threw a short pass to Duke Johnson in the flat. It fell incomplete.
I watched Joe Thomas walk off the field and felt so incredibly sad.