Instant Analysis: The Browns Owed Selves, Fans a Tie
One of the most charming things about Herm Edwards’ “you play to win the game” rant from 2002 is that it resonated with so many people as being both incredibly simple and unequivocally…correct. When do you ever not play to win the game? What idiot reporter was so out-of-touch as to miss the real spirit of competition in sports: that playing for the future is hardly any option at all. The pressure is on not to win for the future, but for this game.
As we’ve seen though, not even one of the most accurate cliches in football will be a good idea 100% of the time. Eric Mangini’s Cleveland Browns find themselves effectively eliminated from playoff contention (well, at the very least, four games out) because they weren’t willing to take a tie game that would have kept them in it to fight for another week.
In short, one of the reasons that this game for Cleveland was such a hugely important game is because the Jets were currently a playoff team in the AFC field, one that the Browns would need to catch to make noise in the AFC this year. A win over the Jets would have done a lot to cut the margin between the two teams to two games with seven to play and would have given the Browns a tiebreaker over the Jets should a wild card spot come down to it. So you can see how important it was to come out of that game with a win. But when the Browns found themselves backed up to their own three with less than two minutes to go in an overtime period, it should have been obvious by the field position situation that they could not expect to win.
A tie would not have made the playoffs a likely outcome for the Browns, or even a more likely outcome than the postseason was going into this week. But when the Browns had to come up with a strategy backed up on their own 3, they needed to be wise enough to know that the correct play was to get out of there without taking their 6th loss, and to live and fight another day. They needed to run the ball with Peyton Hillis three consecutive times.
No one believes in Colt McCoy as a pro quarterback more than I do, but the confidence the Browns showed in McCoy needed to be sacrificed for the good of the other 52 players. The Jets had just a lone timeout, and the Browns could have run out the clock with three consecutive runs. But that’s not the only thing here. If the Jets are going to take their last timeout to get the ball back, you’re getting a third rushing attempt to try to pick up that first down at which point your team can go into it’s two minute drill with at least ten yards better field position re: attempting a field goal. The only way the game ends in a tie w/o at least a passing attempt is if the Jets defense rises on three consecutive plays to get the ball back. And with the game on the line, that defense already has to respect the fact that the defense can pass against it.
The Browns made a fairly elementary mistake when they ‘played to win the game’. It’s not like they failed to come out in the overtime period firing on all cylinders trying to get in field goal range to end it, they just failed to execute and turned the ball over. You can’t blame the coaches on the Browns’ sideline for that: good playcalling, and a terrible mistake by a fourth year NFL receiver, Chansi Stuckey. It’s on the coaches to adapt to the game situation. So you didn’t play well enough to score on the Jets in overtime? Stuff like that happens in the NFL. Don’t take a loss trying to chase a win you should have had.
This was a minor tactical error compared to the game-long mistake that Browns DC Rob Ryan made bringing three rushers to Mark Sanchez instead of four, and never really succeeding in putting Sanchez on the ground. But where that game situation is dynamic and changing and you can reasonably assume that if the front three perform better they can sack an injured Sanchez, the loss in overtime was just a preventable outcome. The Jets had no play. No play, at least, until the Browns dialed up a 1st and 10 pass that fell incomplete, giving the Jets one final shot to win the game.
It’s just that the outcome at the end involved the Jets putting the Browns away. I’m sure this loss hurts bad for Mangini, Rob Ryan, and the Browns’ staff. I’m also certain that they didn’t come into this game to prove that they could get at least a tie. Neither did the Browns players for that matter. The difference between the players and coaches is that the coaches are supposed to be smart enough to know exactly when they need to live to fight another day. The Browns leadership team screwed that part up, plain and simple.