Browns fall in opener
CLEVELAND – One positive for the Browns after a 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins was that quarterback Brandon Weeden’s passer rating was 43.3 points higher than what he posted in last season’s opener.
Then again, Weeden didn’t have much work to do to improve on the 5.1 rating he pitched in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. His 48.4 rating Sunday at First Energy Stadium was part of another abysmal performance by the Browns, who have lost nine straight openers and 14 of the last 15.
The loss sent Browns’ fans home wondering if it’s going to be a sixth straight losing season. Other than a 7-yard touchdown pass from Weeden to tight end Jordan Cameron that produced a 7-6 halftime lead, the Browns were flat across the board on offense while glaring holes appeared on defense.
It was spin time afterward in the locker room. Coach Rob Chudzinski and players tried to pull a few positives from the mess of another disappointing start.
“One thing I know is patience,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “That’s the one thing I’ve learned by being here. We have a good group. You can’t win them all, but you take a lot of positives out after the day.
“No one can run on us. That is making the team one dimensional. Any time you can do that, your percentages of winning go up. They make plays as well. It’s deflating now that we didn’t get the win, but I’m putting this past me and I’m ready for Baltimore.”
Weeden completed 26-of-35 passes for 289 yards and one touchdown, but he had three passes intercepted. Two of the interceptions were deflected off the hands of his receivers. One should have been caught by receiver Greg Little. The other, to Cameron, was behind the tight end.
In fairness to Weeden, he faced constant pressure from a strong pass rush led by Cameron Wake, who had 2.5 of the Dolphins’ six sacks. Wake dominated right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who looked overmatched at times.
Asked if he had ever been hit so many times in a game, Weeden said, “I don’t think so.”
The deflections aside, it wasn’t a good day for Weeden, who faces the challenge of having to please a new regime. The pressure applied by the Dolphins obviously played a part in his performance, but he made some bad decisions.
“I had some missed opportunities,” Weeden said. “I felt like I did some good things. It’s hard to look back on a game you lose and really think you played halfway decent. I felt like I stood in there and continued to battle, even though things weren’t going our way.”
Running back Trent Richardson started with a bang, gaining 26 first-quarter yards, but he was held to 21 the rest of the way. The second half looked similar to games last year when Richardson couldn’t find an opening of any size.
“They didn’t do anything we hadn’t seen all week,” Richardson said. “Coach has a game plan. Whatever he calls, I’m down with it. We got behind, so we were chasing points the whole game.”
The Browns’ defense was stellar against the run, limiting the Dolphins to 20 rushing yards. The news wasn’t as good for the secondary, which allowed Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill to complete 24-of-38 passes for 272 yards and a 34-yard touchdown pass to Brian Hartline.
Cornerback Chris Owens individually allowed most of the yards on an 85-yard scoring drive that gave the Dolphins a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead. Cornerback Buster Skrine, who was beaten on Hartline’s touchdown reception, was penalized for interference in the end zone a play before Daniel Thomas scored on a 1-yard dive for Miami.
“We gave up the long ball,” Chudzinski said. “They had, as the game went on, a few more passes down the field.”
The Browns’ offense fed of the excitement of the crowd on their opening possession, gaining three first downs to advance to the Dolphins’ 40. On third-and-8 a deep pass by Weeden for receiver Travis Benjamin was intercepted by Nolan Carroll at the 1.
“We got Travis on a deep ball and I wanted to take a shot,” Weeden said. “I thought I threw a good ball. It was one-on-one. I’ll take Travis running past anybody. Just taking a shot and being aggressive.”
Kicker Caleb Sturgis was successful on field-goal attempts of 45 and 49 yards to give the Dolphins a 6-0 lead. The Browns, who had three straight three-and-out possessions and a two-play possession that ended with an interception, marched 56 yards on 11 plays to score on a 7-yard pass from Weeden to Cameron 28 seconds before halftime. Cameron was open in the back right corner of the end zone, and Weeden placed the ball where only Cameron could make the catch.
“That was a great throw by Brandon,” Cameron said. “That one was on him.”
The Dolphins regained the lead on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Brian Hartline, who beat cornerback Buster Skrine on a double move. The Browns answered with a 59-yard drive that resulted in a 39-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff, cutting the Dolphins’ lead to 13-10.
The Dolphins put the game away with their 85-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Tannehill completed six passes for 78 yards on the drive.
Sturgis tacked on a 36-yard field goal.
“It’s not a good feeling at all,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We’re going to go in tomorrow and look at how we can make some things different, and then we’re going to get ready for the Ravens.
The Browns play in Baltimore Sunday.