BEREA — Pat Shurmur did his best to minimize the festering damage from the Browns’ poor performance in Sunday’s loss to Washington.
It had the feeling, though, of trying to halt the march of the toy soldiers. It just wasn’t happening.
Every team is allowed a bad game. But for the Browns, the game against the Redskins marked the first time in what seems like eons that they played a game that kind of, sort of mattered.
Washington was playing for first place in the NFC East. The Browns were playing to keep a flickering playoff hope alive, a hope that would have been brighter had they won because Pittsburgh lost to Dallas.
But the Browns lost.
And they didn’t just lose.
They lost looking like a team playing its first preseason game. The quarterback looked uncertain. The running back complained about not getting enough carries. The defense folded in Herculean ways (for those who say it got tired, a defense is allowed to stop the other team so it does not get tired).
A game that could have affirmed the belief that the Browns are headed in the right direction wound up one of the more perplexing of the season — because it was so bad.
But Shurmur wasn’t buying that it was any more than one loss.
“There’s no big picture other than we made too many mistakes and we did not make enough plays to win the game,” Shurmur said.
Which, in fact, is true.
But there is a big picture with this team that has existed since day one: Everything that happens this season affects next season. It’s been that way since Randy Lerner officially announced the sale of the team on the first day of training camp, which naturally is the worst possible day to make that announcement.
Since, the coaching staff and the players have worked with uncertainty, and when Mike Holmgren left in early December and Joe Banner came in, the uncertainty grew larger.
When a team does the things the Browns did against Washington, it leads to the belief that there is no uncertainty, and that the new ownership will clean things out with a fire hose.
Weeden faced a team that ranked 31st in the league in pass defense. He looked scared. Even when the Browns led, he never seemed sure. He held the ball too long, had four passes knocked down, threw two game-altering interceptions and looked lost on a fourth-down conversion.
Not since the opener had Weeden looked like he did against Washington.
It can be dangerous to over-judge one game, and when Weeden struggled earlier this season against Baltimore it was easier to say it was just one of those games.
But this game meant something, and Weeden did not have it. His poor game came against the stark contrast of another rookie taken 80 picks later having so much success against the Browns defense.
Shurmur said he never thought about taking Weeden out and playing Colt McCoy, that the Browns had a lead at halftime and the ball. Even though Weeden started the half with an interception on the second play that set up a touchdown, the coach felt the Browns should just keep playing.
“I’m not saying you never throw it to the backup quarterback, but I didn’t consider it [Sunday],” Shurmur said.
With everything at stake, with the importance of the game for this season as well as the future, it must take a lot to go to No. 2.
Weeden has had 21 passes knocked down this season, something Shurmur attributed to the team’s desire to throw short crossing routes.
“It happens at times,” Shurmur said.
He said the defensive breakdowns were caused by one or two guys losing contain on the rollout, and stressed it was not the same play over and over.
He said Trent Richardson didn’t get more carries because the Redskins were committing a safety to the run on first down, forcing Cleveland to throw. When passing failed, the Browns were in poor down-and-distance situations for running.
As for Weeden, Shurmur said he doesn’t think of him as 29, but “as a rookie.” He also said he has not lost faith in Weeden, who ranks 32nd in the league with a 72.4 rating and has thrown 17 interceptions.
“I’m looking forward to him having a much better game in Denver,” Shurmur said.
He may, but the lingering uncertainty in the background means that no matter what kind of game he has or the coach has, it may not be enough for them to return in 2013. Which means that the Browns could be starting over again — this time because a new owner prefers his guys to run his team.
The Browns finish in Denver and Pittsburgh, where the games mean a lot more to the home team than they will the Browns. Denver needs a win to earn the AFC’s No. 2 playoff seed and home field advantage in the playoffs. If Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati at home on Sunday, the Steelers would need a win over the Browns to clinch a playoff spot.
Yes, Berea Monday was just another day in paradise.