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Browns need a closer
December 19, 2011 - Ed Puskas
The Browns are a tease.
Week after week, they show an amazing propensity to play well for three quarters — or at least to keep the games close — before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In the end, the Browns always seem to find a way to lose.
Would it be any more frustrating if they lost 35-3 every week? I don't think so. At least then, there would no illusions going into a game about the Browns' chances of a breakthrough performance or even a lucky victory. But the way this team operates, it plays just well enough to convince its long-suffering fans that this might just be the week.
But in the end, the Browns make just enough mistakes or play it too close to the vest along the way, with the result being that the other team stays close enough to catch Cleveland at the end and leave Browns fans exasperated.
The Browns are 4-10 after another such loss — this time to the Arizona Cardinals — Sunday. The Browns led 17-7 halfway through the fourth quarter, but the Cardinals came up with 10 points in the final 8:33 to force overtime.
Arizona eventually kicked a short field goal in OT for a 20-17 victory to keep its playoff hopes alive after a 1-6 start.
That's right. The Cardinals were 1-6 at one point and are now 7-7. Arizona was once the laughingstock of the NFL. But the Cardinals played in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago and could be back in the playoffs this season. They have playmakers in wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, whose 32-yard catch-and-run set up the winning field goal in OT, and running back Beanie Wells, who had a fourth-quarter touchdown run. Then there is cornerback Patrick Peterson, whose 32-yard punt return in OT gave Arizona the ball in Browns territory just before quarterback John Skelton found a wide-open Fitzgerald streaking through the Cleveland secondary.
The Cardinals' quarterback is John Skelton, who played at Fordham. Fordham is not exactly known as the Cradle of Quarterbacks. If a guy from Fordham can win in the NFL, why can't a Browns quarterback do it?
It goes back to what is around Skelton. Players like Fitzgerald, Wells and Peterson can make plays that change games. The Browns have too few of those players. Peyton Hillis might be one on a good day. Greg Little, who caught a 76-yard touchdown pass, shows potential. But Little has dropped at least 11 passes this season, so he's a work in progress.
Little, in fact, is a microcosm of the Browns. He can make the occasional play we saw Sunday, when he took advantage of a matchup advantage against Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington and got open. But there have been too many other instances when Colt McCoy has put the ball right in Little's hands only to see him drop it.
Maybe Little will one day catch those passes consistently. Maybe the Browns will add a playmaker or two or three in the draft and through free agency in 2012. They need more of the kinds of players who can change the game in an instant.
Perhaps then the Browns will be able to make the plays necessary to move the chains and get the fourth-quarter scores that wrap up victories, instead of just driving fans mad with all these close games that invariably turn into tough losses.
Some more imaginative play calls in the fourth quarter wouldn't hurt, either. Yes, the Browns need a closer or two. But they still have to play — as Herm Edwards would say — to win the game, instead of playing not to lose it.
The Browns always seem as if they're trying to avoid making a critical mistake late in games. And, of course, in doing that you just know they're going to make one. That comes from the coaching staff turning conservative with a lead because Pat Shurmur knows the Browns really don't have a go-to guy on offense.
When you think about that, it makes the simple fact that they've been so close so often rather amazing.
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