They say it is not how you start, but how you finish. For the Cleveland Browns in the 2015 season, no statement can be truer.
For the second time in three weeks, Mike Pettine and company had one of the top teams in the NFL on the ropes, but just could not find a way to put them away when it was all said and done. The Browns may have lost 34-20, but this game was vastly different with just under five minutes left in the second quarter.
See, the score then was 20-7—as the Brian Hartline had just cashed in for his second touchdown reception of the day. The team even avoided a 20-14 score, as they forced a fumble after the Cardinals drove the ball 77 yards in 10 plays. However, the Browns would quickly go three and out and give the ball right back to the Cardinals, who cashed in with a field goal before the half to make it 20-10.
Despite leading one of the league’s best at home and getting the ball in the second half, something just did not feel right. The team came out flat on their opening possession, and the Cardinals would quickly strike to pull within 20-17. From there it was all Cardinals, as the Browns offense forgot how to move the ball and the Cardinals took full advantage of it.
Before you could blink, it was 24-20 Arizona. And as we all know, they would tack on 10 more points to win, 34-20.
For the Browns, this was a case of not being able to finish—plain and simple. For a team to come out and look as dead as they did in the second half with the lead at home was not only unimaginable, it is truly unbelievable less than 48 hours later. The stadium didn’t believe (trust me, I was there), and the team donning the orange jerseys did not believe—and it completely showed in their second half effort.
Now on a short week, Pettine’s group is expected to travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals on Thursday Night Football. To make matters worse, their starting quarterback is banged up (again), and a slew of players were on today’s injury report. Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, Hartline and Tashaun Gipson—just to name a few—could all potentially miss the team’s Thursday night bout against the undefeated Bengals.
It will not be easy to suddenly figure out how to finish on a short week after failing so many times this season already. Add in the veterans who aren’t looking like they will play, and Thursday night could be a downright massacre for most teams right now—but the Browns have not allowed themselves to be completely out of games this season despite injuries and the odds beings stacked against them.
If the Browns want to find a way to finish and win more than two games this season, it all starts with their atrocious run game. You cannot simply expect to win football games if you cannot run the football, and the Browns were downright bad at it with 39 yards on 20 carries Sunday against the Cardinals.
What is even more concerning is the lack of commitment to even attempt to establish the run as well. Last year, the Browns were No. 6 in the league in rushing attempts with 477. This year, they are No. 19 with 195 (according to ESPN after Sunday’s games). At their current pace, the Browns are going to finish with nearly 100 less rushes than last year—which is unacceptable for a team that was supposed to focus on a power rushing attack this year.
While there is not a magic potion to suddenly teach a team how to finish in the middle of the season sitting at 2-6, the Browns remembering how to run the ball could go a long way this year. So, if Pettine and company want to make Thursday’s game competitive against the Bengals, they need to come out and run the ball early and often—or else this one could get ugly early, and the Browns will not have to worry about learning to finish anytime soon.