With the bad execution and even worse play calling, it didn’t seem it could get any worse for the Browns offense on Monday night at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
But it did. You just needed to wait until the last play of the game to see it.
And when you did, you still didn’t believe it.
Taking bad offensive thinking to a new level – or depth, as it were -- the Browns, down 16-0 to the Baltimore Ravens, played hot potato with the ball after Brady Quinn threw 10 yards to wide receiver Joshua Cribbs to the Cleveland 45 as time expired. But instead of just going down, staying healthy, licking your wounds and walking off the field to come back and fight another day, which Cribbs should have been instructed to do, he turned and looked for someone to pitch to as the Browns tried to score 16 points on one play.
He found that someone in tight end Robert Royal, but when he released the ball, he was pasted by 360-pound defensive lineman Brandon McKinney, possibly in retaliation for a third-quarter chop – intentional or not -- by Quinn at Terrell Suggs’ knees following an interception, causing a sprain and knocking the Ravens right linebacker out of the game.
In any event, Cribbs did not get up and had to be carted off the field and into an area near the entrance to the Browns locker room, where he was carefully placed onto a stretcher and into an ambulance and rushed to a hospital, presumably Cleveland Clinic, with whom the Browns partner. Although it did not look good, his specific condition was not immediately known.
“He’s got feeling in all parts of his body,” Browns head coach Eric Mangini, whose club lost its ninth straight home game dating back to last year, tying the team record of the 1999 and 2000 expansion clubs, said afterward. “Taking him to the hospital was a precautionary measure more than anything else, from what I understand.”
Hopefully, that’s true, but what can’t be understood is why the Browns ran that kind of silly, schoolyard play.
Cribbs is the Browns’ best player. He is their lone threat to score a touchdown, either with his punt or kickoff returns or with his running out of the wildcat offense, where he carried six times for 34 yards. Without him, what little chance the Browns have to score a TD – they got shut out for the first time all year, failed to score a TD for the fifth time and did not advance past the Baltimore 45 – goes by the wayside.
Mangini has come under fire for staging extra practice time for the players at the bottom of the regular roster, and on the practice squad, so they can elevate their status. Two players have already suffered season-ending injuries during those sessions. One, practice squad defensive lineman Keith Grennan, blew out a patella tendon and may never play again.
The merit of those sessions can be debated, but those injuries, in addition to hanging Cribbs out to dry, so to speak, on that last play, plus running back Jamal Lewis’ complaint last week that the Browns practice too long and hard and have nothing left for the games, is a combination that does not speak well for the coach’s methods and philosophies.
The Browns got just 160 total yards in the game. Quinn was 13-of-31 passing for 99 yards, two interceptions – one of which was returned 48 yards for a touchdown -- and a microscopic 23.5 quarterback rating. But in fairness to him, he was under siege all night by a Ravens front seven that had its way with the Browns offensive line, getting four sacks for 25 yards for losses.
The pass routes Quinn was given were mostly horizontal, not vertical, allowing the Ravens to put eight to nine men in the box, all of whom were within seven yards of the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t a defensive alignment as much as it was a human chain.
The whole thing – this semblance of an offense and the way it is dragging down a team overall that doesn’t need any help in that regard -- is just a mess.
“It’s frustrating for everyone, including myself,” Quinn said.
Then the quarterback asked for the thoughts and prayers for Cribbs “by anyone out there. We’d appreciate that.”
What would also be appreciated is to give more thought to offense – when the game is on the line, and when it’s not.
On the official play sheet, the last words on that last play in reference to Cribbs are, “He is out.”
Those words are haunting for the Cleveland coaches.
And they should be.
But, with a little common sense – common sense, mind you, not even football sense -- they didn’t have to be.
QUOTABLE: “If the Baltimore Ravens wore their throwback uniforms, they’d be the Cleveland Browns.” – ESPN color analyst – and boyhood Browns fan – Jon Gruden with the line of the night on the telecast of the game.