|Browns RB Trent Richardson had 95 yards on 28 carries and admits he left many yards on the field against the Cowboys on Sunday. (US Preswire)|
One Browns beat writer has joked that he has crafted the same game story every week since they returned to Cleveland in 1999.
He's exaggerating, of course. NFL games are like snowflakes or fingerprints -- no two are ever exactly alike. But nearly every Browns game in 2012 has followed the same pattern. They take the lead, they lose the lead, they hang around, and they find some galling way to lose.
That plotline was followed in the 23-20 overtime loss Sunday at Dallas. It was arguably the most frustrating of all defeats this season because they took a lead with a minute remaining in regulation. But with the game on the line, whichever unit is on the field blows it. It's that simple and that maddening.
They say the game is won or lost in the trenches. Only the Browns can disprove that old chestnut. They dominated the Cowboys on both sides of the line, yet scored just seven points after halftime. It took RB Trent Richardson 28 carries to reach 95 yards as he reverted to dancing in the backfield in the second half instead of attacking whatever hole he could find. He lamented his struggles after the game, admitting that he left many yards on the field. QB Brandon Weeden tossed what looked to be the game-winning touchdown to TE Benjamin Watson, who tied a career-high with two scores. But Weeden remains far less accurate than advertised and one wonders if he's simply not a good fit in the West Coast offense. The protection was superb and the receivers caught the passes within reach. The three-and-out in overtime deep in their own territory pretty much doomed them to defeat. Previous game's grade: D
The line gets an A-plus. The linebackers were fine -- especially emerging Craig Robertson. But the secondary is simply too thin and is particularly exposed when top CB Joe Haden (oblique) is out. The domino effect his absence has taken on the unit has been nothing short of shocking. The Browns lost all four games when he was suspended earlier in the year. They were called for a stunning seven penalties on Sunday -- most of them justified despite their postgame complaints. The officials did blow a critical call in overtime in which Dallas WR Miles Austin appeared to take two steps with the ball before CB Sheldon Brown knocked it away and FS Usama Young recovered. It was ruled incomplete. Cowboys QB Tony Romo picked on Brown and untested rookie CB Johnson Bademosi in driving his team for the winning field goal. Poor secondary play wasted a tremendous effort by the pass rushers, who registered a season-high seven sacks and held Dallas to just 63 rushing yards on 21 carries. Previous game's grade: B
Special teams: B
KR/PR Josh Cribbs complained during the week about his lack of use as a receiver, but didn't allow his discontent to affect his performance against the Cowboys. He put the Browns in good field position with punt returns of 21 and 20 yards. PK Phil Dawson remained perfect in 19 field-goal attempts this year with two more, including a 51-yarder. He has now nailed 12 of his last 13 from that distance or longer -- his lone miss was due to a botched snap. And P Reggie Hodges enjoyed one of his best games in a season of struggles. The Browns might have earned an A-grade here, but they allowed Dallas punt returner Dwayne Harris to race around right end 20 yards in overtime to put his team in enemy territory and kick the game-winning field goal. Previous game's grade: A-
One thing appears certain: coach Pat Shurmur has not lost the team. The Browns played with passion in Dallas. But they never play with confidence with the game on the line and that is not only a reflection on youth and experience, but on coaching. They again saved their worst execution both offensively and defensively for the most critical moments of the game. Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress must also be questioned for the unimaginative play-calling when the Browns were one yard from pay dirt in the fourth quarter. A run up the middle by Richardson lost a half-yard, then a fade to a blanketed Jordan Cameron in the corner of the end zone was overthrown by Weeden and had no chance anyway. Previous game's grade: D
Stay dialed in on the Cleveland Browns on Twitter at @CBSBrowns throughout the season with on-site updates from CBSSports.com RapidReports correspondent Marty Gitlin.