Whatever energy and emotion the Chiefs had stored up from last week’s stirring win over Carolina quickly vanished in the second half at Cleveland on Sunday.
The result was an all-too-familiar lackluster effort as the Chiefs fell quietly to the Browns, 30-7, after being outscored 20-0 in the second half. The loss dropped the Chiefs to 2-11.
The Chiefs actually seemed to carry over some momentum from last week when Jamaal Charles popped off an exhilarating 80-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, giving the Chiefs a 7-0 lead.
Then the Chiefs’ defense stepped up, forcing a three-and-out by Cleveland. Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn and the offense responded by driving from their own 21 all the way to the Cleveland 4-yard line. A 47-yard toss from Quinn to Dwayne Bowe was the key play.
But the drive stalled there, and then Ryan Succup inexplicably missed a chip-shot, 27-yard field goal, the ball bouncing off the left upright and costing the Chiefs a rare two-score advantage.
The miss, early as it was, seemed to almost instantly deflate the Chiefs, who never recovered.
“You work so hard to get down the field and you don’t get the points,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel told reporters in Cleveland after the game. “That always hurts.”
The Browns answered with a long drive of their own, capped by a 23-yard field by Phil Dawson to draw within 7-3.
The Chiefs managed two first downs on their next possession, but were forced to punt. And once again, their special teams let them down.
Punter Dustin Colquitt hit his worst punt of the day, a low end-over-end kick fielded by Cleveland’s Travis Benjamin at his own 7. Benjamin worked through a few missed tackles early, then raced up the sideline where Colquitt had the best shot at a tackle or a force out.
Colquitt, though, made no attempt at either, and that disinterest seemed to epitomize the Chiefs’ effort the rest of the day.
Benjamin took the return to the house for a 93-yard score, the longest punt return in Browns history.
“Just a lot of missed tackles on that play,” said Crennel, who was unusually tight-lipped in his post-game answers.
Crennel was returning to Cleveland, where he was the head coach from 2005-2008. Former Browns Peyton Hillis and Quinn also were returning to Cleveland, and neither one distinguished themselves Sunday.
Hillis, booed soundly each time he touched the ball, gained just 11 yards on five carries.
Quinn, last week’s AFC offensive player of the week, fizzled after a decent start and finished just 10 of 21 for 159 yards and one interception.
The Chiefs went into halftime trailing 10-7, but then, once again, special teams hurt them immediately to start the second half.
Succup attempted a pooch kick toward the sideline but the ball bounced and wobbled out of bounds, setting the Browns up with great field position at their 40.
It took Cleveland just seven plays to score as Trent Richardson bulled in from the 1, and the Browns led 17-7, never to look back.
The Chiefs had a chance to stop the Browns on that drive but safety Eric Berry dropped a sure interception at the Chiefs’ 20.
“He is playing with a cast on his hand,” Crennel noted. “He tried his best to pull it in but couldn’t do it.”
A Quinn interception led to another short Dawson field goal and the Browns went up 20-7.
Then with time running down in the third quarter, the Chiefs faced a fourth-and-1 near their own 40. But Crennel, even though his team was 2-10 entering the game, still played it close to the vest — as has been his pattern most of the season — and chose to punt.
The Browns promptly marched 82 yards and Richardson capped the drive with another 1-yard touchdown run to seal it at 27-7.
Actually, the Chiefs had a chance to also stop that drive but rookie defensive back Tysyn Hartman dropped an easy interception in the end zone.
“We had our hands on the ball a couple of times in the second half,” Crennel said. “But they don’t put asterisks on (those scores).”
It seemed clear the Chiefs’ energy level waned, especially on offense. Quinn was completely ineffective after the first quarter, and seemed to miss Bowe, who left the game early after being kneed in the back while blocking on a running play.
The Chiefs also seemed completely out of sync at times. They were twice flagged for having 12 men in the huddle, and Quinn also seemed exasperated with some of his receivers who did not appear to finish some routes.
Crennel, though, insisted the Chiefs did not experience a letdown Sunday after last week’s emotional win on the heels of the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide tragedy.
“I just think we didn’t play a good second half,” Crennel said. “We weren’t as productive in the second half on either side of the ball.”
Crennel obviously was hoping his troops would finish the season strong, and perhaps provide an argument for his return next season.
Now, though, Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, who have been under fire all season from the fan base and the media, may have just three games left to their Kansas City tenure.
The Chiefs finish the season with road games at Oakland and Denver, and with a home game against Indianapolis.
“I still think we will stay together and fight together to finish this season strong,” Crennel said of his team.
But Sunday’s effort provided little evidence to support that theory.