I found it a little difficult to put my feelings on the recent loss of the Cleveland Browns into words, largely because I'm not nearly as angry/upset/annoyed about the result as were many Cleveland fans calling into local sports talk radio and posting online immediately following the game. I would agree with those who have stated that the Browns were outplayed by an inferior Indianapolis Colts team, and that head coach Pat Shurmur was responsible for multiple decisions that could leave him searching for work before the new year. Players make plays, as they say, and the fact of the matter is that the Browns once again just didn't make the necessary plays in order to pick up the win that was there for the taking.
Colts beat Browns 17-13: Shurmur
The trend of Shurmur being the significant talking point following a Cleveland loss continued on Sunday. I think the head coach could have managed the clock better at the end of the first half, and I also didn't like to see the Browns punting the football when facing a fourth and one while losing late in the game. Still, it shouldn't be ignored that Shurmur twice made the right call in situations that should have gone differently.
Shurmur shocked some fans and the Indianapolis defense when he put the ball in the hands of rookie QB Brandon Weeden when Cleveland was faced with a third and one during the fourth quarter, and Weeden threw a perfect long ball before taking a shot from an oncoming pass rusher. Josh Gordon, who reeled in a 33-yard TD pass in the third quarter, just dropped the pass that hit in right in the numbers. Sun or no sun, that's a catch Gordon has to make ten times out of ten, and it's a miscue that may have cost Cleveland the win.
A lack of execution following a solid play call also resulted in Cleveland squandering their final real chance to win the game. Had Weeden thrown a little bit better of a pass or Josh Cooper positioned himself in front the DB covering him on a fourth and six, the Browns would have picked up the first down that would have let them continue their offensive drive in Indianapolis territory late in the game.
I've often criticized Shurmur during his tenure with the Browns. Regardless of how you feel about the current coach of the team, it would be unfair to blame only Shurmur for today's loss. Add this game to what's becoming a long list of contests that the Browns could have won had someone held onto the football or made a tackle or done something else when the team needed that one big play.
Colts beat Browns 17-13: Weeden
Weeden remains a work in progress, a QB who disproved those who had joked that it would be impossible to overthrow the speedy Gordon, and also one who needs to quickly break the "gunslinger" habit of throwing the ball into double and triple coverages. Such issues aside, you'd have to be in denial or the biggest Colt McCoy fan on earth to not see how much the rookie has improved since the Week 1 debacle.
I would argue that Weeden actually outplayed Andrew Luck during the final half-hour of the game, and he looked more like a veteran than a rookie during Cleveland's final two serious offensive drives. The hope is that his decision making will improve as time goes on, as will Cleveland's current crop of young wide receivers. Assuming that it will be only onward and upward for those players, Cleveland's passing attack seems to have a very bright future.
Colts beat Browns 17-13: Defense
Cleveland's run defense continues to be an absolute liability and arguably the worst in the NFL. As with Shurmur, Weeden and other aspects of the team, I'm finding it hard to be overly upset at a unit that, frustrations aside, got the job done when it mattered most. The bend-but-don't-break Browns gave up just three points in the last 37:41 of play, and they forced a turnover in the fourth quarter that likely would have been the game-changing moment had Gordon held onto the previously mentioned pass. All you can ask from this defense right now is that it keeps the Browns in the game. That it did, and then some.
Colts beat Browns 17-13: Conclusion
I understand how the majority of Browns fans are feeling. I'm also sick of the losing seasons, and my faith in Shurmur being able to be the guy to lead Cleveland to a championship is, to put it nicely, small. Until this group of Browns players consistently learn how to close games out in fourth quarters, these losses are going to happen. Of all of Cleveland's 2012 defeats, this is the one that bothers me the least. All the Browns can do now is move on and try to put together back-to-back wins before the Bye.