Browns have high points but can't close in loss
BALTIMORE -- It was a game for the taking.
A play here, a play there -- change any one of three or four and the Cleveland Browns might have pulled off a prime-time upset in Baltimore.
Instead, the frustration grows as the Browns drop to 0-4 after losing 23-16 to the Ravens, with each of the losses carrying the same theme: They were there to be taken, but the Browns didn't take them.
"We fell a couple plays short," coach Pat Shurmur said.
Much of the anger will fall on receiver Greg Little, who was on the verge of a memorable game until his familiar malady hit him. Again.
The Browns trailed 23-13 and had the ball at the Ravens 34, when the Browns were hit with the kind of play that makes coaches gnarly and players depressed.
Weeden -- who had an impressive game with 320 yards on 52 passes as the Browns only had five rushes in the second half -- somehow avoided an all-out Ravens rush, and found Little down the middle of the field at the goal-line. Weeden put the ball high and over a defender, and Little leapt, got his hands on the ball -- and fumbled the catch away.
It wasn't an easy catch, but it's the kind of catch NFL receivers make at crucial times and crucial moments. The kind of catch seen in highlight films.
"What do you think?" Shurmur said when asked if Little should have made the catch.
Little did not hide.
"It's a tough catch," he said. "I don't even know how to categorize it. It's a tough one, but if you want to be a great player, if you want to be a great receiver, if you want to make plays that people remember, that people name, that put your team in position to come back, you make the play."
Phil Dawson followed with a 51-yard field goal (he had another Dawson-esque night with three field goals longer than 50 yards), but the non-catch stung.
Weeden recognized a Ravens all-out blitz, but instead of trying to throw the ball short as he did against the same defense earlier, he bought time and put the ball where Little could catch it.
"Great receivers make great plays," Little said. "It's a tough catch. You just got to make the play."
There's no denying Shurmur contributed to the drive not ending well. Two plays before Little's miss Weeden was flagged for intentional grounding, but Shurmur added to the drama by being flagged (by a regular ref) for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing the call.
"It was on me," Shurmur said. "I can't do that."
The argument was curious, because the penalty looked obvious.
"I can't do that," Shurmur said. "It's an emotional game and I got to make sure I keep my emotions in check. That's fair to say."
Dawson's greatness made sure the extra 15 yards did not cost the Browns points, but a penalty like that on the head coach doesn't help the cause.
Those were just two plays though. There were others that affected the outcome, as the Browns continually kept chipping away at Baltimore leads.
Cleveland cut a 9-0 deficit to 9-7. The Ravens increased it to 16-10, but Dawson's 51-yard field goal made it 16-10 and the Browns had the ball at Baltimore's 43 on third-and-5.
Weeden stared down Travis Benjamin, then threw a short out. Cary Williams intercepted and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown.
"The guy jumped the route," Shurmur said. "He made a good play."
Weeden said he made a bad throw.
"I threw it on his back hip," Weeden said. "The guy made a great play on it. I should have thrown it farther out."
Single plays, mistakes, gaffes -- they all matter.
Several of Weeden's throws went through receiver's hands, or were dropped. Little's was the biggest miss, but Jordan Norwood also missed a couple.
"For everything that went on in the game we had a chance at the end," Weeden said.
That they did was amazing.
Weeden somehow drove the Browns from their 10 to the Ravens 18 in the final minute with no timeouts, but a last-play pass sailed high and out of the end zone. Yes, from the 18 Weeden threw the ball where nobody could catch it.
Weeden had three chances in the end zone, two from the 33 and one from the 18. The first to Norwood was tipped away by Ed Reed -- about the 874th play he's made that kills the Browns. A Hail Mary fell incomplete, and the Browns got the one last chance after a penalty.
Shurmur said the Browns are close, but they need to win. This night he was right -- they were close. And they could have taken the game.
But mistakes both physical and mental cost them.
That they kept it close and in the end were throwing in the end zone was a good thing.
But the inescapable bottom line is they didn't take do what was needed, and they now drop to 0-4 -- with a trip to play the Giants in New Jersey next up and a new owner waiting to take over in middle of October.