CLEVELAND, OH – I scribbled in my notebook after the Browns’ 17-10 loss to New Orleans:
1. New Orleans coach Dennis Allen said several times in his post-game interview: “We talked all week about what this game was going to be about mental toughness, and I thought our guys showed incredible tenacity.”
2. Alan was right – about his saints. As he also explained, “We were down 10-0 (in the second quarter) and…we were able to take the lead. Then the defense finishes the game.”
3. More from Allen: “The mentally tougher team would have won… Heart and grit, that’s what they (Saints players) have.”
4. Here’s the sad part. These are the words Browns fans should have expected from coach Kevin Stefanski after the game – a game the Browns were supposed to win. A dome/warm weather team playing on the road… Christmas Eve… in below zero temperatures with a wind chill… set to win the Browns. And that was especially true after going 10-0.
5. “We’ve got a lot of games we haven’t been able to close this year — the Jets, the Falcons, the Chargers and this one,” said Browns veteran Joel Petonio. “It’s four or five games… Good teams find a way to win those close to them and find a way to close the door.” We didn’t do that enough this year.”
6. Browns are 6-9. They are now guaranteed one thing – a losing record… again. They could lose more games than last year, when they were 8-9. Even with Deshaun Watson missing the first 11 games with suspension, did the big-decision Berea picks expect the Browns to be 6-9 at this point in the season? Did they think they would be 4-7 with Jacoby Brissett at QB when his offense was 11th in the NFL in scoring?
7. An interesting point made by Miles Garrett: “I don’t think the intensity has gone down, but I do think the attention to detail is where it’s supposed to be – and delivering those plays when they come to you, and that really comes back to bite us.”
8. Something has been missing with this team for most of the season. They’ll play a good game, like last week’s 13-3 cold-weather win over Baltimore and the 32-13 Halloween night victory over Cincinnati. But they don’t take much. Since the Browns were 11-5 and made the 2020 playoffs, they were 14-18. Considering the level of talent, this is a poor feat.
9. I’ve written a lot about weird gameplay in my game column. Coach Kevin Stefanski and Watson were looking to score some big passes in the second half. They had an open reception. Some balls are dropped. They had two drops that could be TDs.
10. But this day with winds of 25 to 55 mph and a chill below zero made it difficult for the receivers to run their usual trajectories. Players were slipping. Midfielders have had to throw the ball hard to break through the wind, but that also makes it difficult to catch on cold days. If you’ve noticed, the Saints rarely attempted passes other than throws a few and average. They didn’t fight the weather, they adapted. Andy Dalton was 8 of 15 for 92 yards.
11. NEW ORLEANS used Taysom Hill many times in the formation of the Wildcat run. Pick it up for him, and try to stop him. He had 56 yards on nine carries, including a bumpy 8-yard TD run.
12. Allen: “I thought we did the things we needed to do to win the game. That was effectively running the ball and effectively stopping the run on defense.”
13. The Browns ran it 34 times, but averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. Kareem Hunt only had 8 yards on seven carries. Nick Chubb rushed for 92 yards on 24 attempts. The longest run of the day was 19 yards by Chubb.
14. The Browns only TD was a 12-yard run designed for Watson. This weather begged Brown to let Watson use his legs and athleticism more. But he only had three total carries for 24 yards. The Saints have consistently used the wildcat formation with Alvin Kamara returning and QB Hill part-time. They lined up and dared Brown to stop them. Nothing difficult. And when that meant the most in the second half, New Orleans won the test of wills.
15. Comment from Betonio: “We have investments up front (offensive line) and in the running back room. On a day like today it’s cold and windy and it’s hard to throw the ball… We try to run the ball and they try to stop the run… It just doesn’t work.”
16. In terms of investments, the Browns have their own offensive linemen on long-term contracts: Wyatt Teller, Jack Conklin, and Bitonio. Chubb also has a long-term deal. The Saints had allowed at least 148 rushing yards in four of their last six games. New Orleans beat Atlanta 21-18 last week, but surrendered to 231 yards rushing. This wasn’t a good defense the Browns faced, but they didn’t take advantage of it.
17. I still can’t figure out why Watson attempted a relatively long lateral pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones on fourth down and two in the fourth quarter. The pass rose in the wind and sailed over the receiver’s head. In case you were wondering, Watson didn’t alter the play, according to Stefanski. Why not run, or just fake a running back and a quick shortstop for the first run?
18. One last thought: The fans who showed up deserved better than what the Browns gave them on Saturday — and all season long. For the record, the Saints are now 6-9 and have won two in a row for the first time this season.
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