Browns show up in fourth quarter this week
I felt it and I am sure that Browns fans everywhere felt it as well. The Browns entered the fourth quarter of their game against the Bengals with a 10-point lead.
At high schools and college campuses across this nation, players and fans hold up four fingers at the start of the final quarter — in Wisconsin the band goes nuts and Camp Randall Stadium shakes with Richter scale moving force.
In Cleveland, we are left with the foreboding sense that we have seen this movie before. That unshakeable déjà vu has been reinforced this season. The Browns have led in the fourth quarter in their first three games this season and were left with zero happy endings. They became the first team in the NFL to lose their first three games after leading in the fourth quarter since the 1954 Green Bay Packers.
So, despite being armed with a double-digit advantage, Browns fans were nervous and for good reason.
Sure enough, the Bengals marched right down the field, the Browns committed a couple penalties and only nine plays into the fourth quarter, the lead was only a field goal.
The Browns offense responded with a quick three plays and out — and depending on his or her stomach, Browns fans reached for pepto or whiskey.
Sure enough, it did not take long for the Carson Palmer and the Bengals to get back into field-goal range.
In the Browns three heart-breaking losses to start the season, the fourth quarter has not been not kind. The Browns failed to make plays when they were needed. That changed on both sides of the ball.
After Chad Ochocinco got his hand caught in the cookie jar, the Bengals were pushed just outside the edge of Mike Nugent’s field goal range. After being burned repeatedly on blitz packages, Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan played it safe and dropped extra bodies into coverage.
To me, it seemed in slow motion, Browns linebacker Matt Roth was in the frame and Palmer was just within his grasp. As one nation we yelled, "Hit him," while thoughts of the pass just getting away in time for a first down played in our heads. However, this time Roth got his man and Bengals were knocked out of field goal range.
I was a bit shocked by the Browns play action pass on first down. Seneca Wallace did not play poorly in this game, but he is not a playmaker. Run clock run. Thankfully, the Bengals defense made a stupid mistake and the Browns got a fresh set of downs. After two bruising Peyton Hillis runs, the Browns faced third-and-one with just more than three minutes to play.
Heading into that play, the Browns had been 0 for 10 on third-down conversions. Several times spanning those games when the Browns faced a third and short, Wallace threw long down the sidelines with no success.
This time the Browns lined up with Hillis and Lawrence Vickers and pushed forward. The Cincinnati defense knew what was coming and Hillis absorbed several hard shots, but he fell forward for the first down.
Head coach Eric Mangini had offensive coordinator Brian Daboll threw out the play book at that point. Hillis rolled forward for 3 yards on first down and induced the fat lady to start belting out show tunes with a 24-yard blast.
After the game, a reporter asked Browns offensive lineman Eric Steinbach what was different in this fourth quarter. His answer was direct, "We won."
The Browns are the same team they were the first three games. Wallace is a caretaker and not the answer at quarterback. While Chansi Stuckey had a good game, the Browns passing game is basically limited to tight ends. The defense is solid but doesn’t match up well at cornerback. For the Browns to win they can’t make mistakes and they have to take advantage of their opponents mistakes.
They are not a bad football team and they are not a playoff football team. They are a flawed but hard working team with almost no margin for error.
The difference between winning and losing is about making plays in the fourth quarter. Against the Bengals, the Browns made those plays. If they can do that in a few more fourth quarters, maybe as Browns fans we can face those final 15 minutes with confidence.
The Browns are getting better and now finally they have a mark in the win column to show something for their efforts.