Lloyd: Browns collapse against Jets worst loss in 25 years

John Johnson III stood in disbelief in front of his locker, clutching a towel around his waist and repeating the same line to anyone who would listen.

“They should make a movie out of it,” he said. “The last four minutes should be a movie.”

“A horror movie,” I said, and he forced an exasperated laugh.

The Cleveland Browns have lost 249 games since returning to the NFL in 1999, but never quite like this. There were plenty of outrageous moments at this stadium – fans throwing bottles onto the pitch, Myles Garrett swinging a helmet, Dwayne Rudd throwing one too – but not this.

A franchise that has drowned its fanbase for 30 years hit the towel and bucket again on Sunday.

In a way, it was the worst loss of all.

There have been bigger blowouts, of course, and far more embarrassing moments. But to snatch defeat from the clutches of victory like that? With fans celebrating as they walked out of the stadium with two touchdowns on the two-minute warning, thinking they were 2-0 down for the first time in decades? By the time those poor folks got to their cars and turned on the postgame spectacle, the Browns had inexplicably lost to the Jets 31-30.

Only two losses compare: a similar meltdown in Chicago in 2001 and Rudd’s helmet toss against Kansas City in 2002. The loss to the Bears was on the road and this Browns team was in its third year of existence without playoff expectations. The game against the Chiefs was close throughout and Kansas City even led with three minutes left.

But this? The Browns were in charge all afternoon. They haven’t closed for the second time in as many weeks.

It’s the kind of meltdown that gets someone fired.

“We have to finish and do the things that win you games and we haven’t done that,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Everyone is going to want to point fingers and say, ‘Whose fault was that? Put it on everyone. It’s all of us. Me, coaches and players. It’s everyone.”

Oh, don’t worry. We will point the finger, especially the defense. But I have plenty of fingers to go around.

How do you write the script for an NFL horror movie? Here is a four-part Cleveland tragedy.

I. The sideline

I mumbled under my breath as Kareem Hunt went overboard near the two-minute warning, “What’s he doing?” It seemed harmless at the time. The Browns were leading 24-17 and the Jets were out of timeouts. Still, Hunt had picked up the first down. Just fall within the limits, let the clock tick until the two minute warning, take three knees and go celebrate.

Instead, the Browns had a first down 12 minutes and 2 seconds behind the Jets.

Stefanski’s code word for his traffic jams, at least it was two years ago, was “no mas”. It’s what he called it in 2020 during a game in Houston when the Browns were leading 10-7 in the final minute and the Texans were out of timeouts. Nick Chubb’s orders that day were to take the first down but not score so the Browns could run out of time.

Chubb followed instructions, ripping a 59-yard run before going out at 1. The Browns took a knee and killed the rest of the clock.

In a similar situation on Sunday, Stefanski did not give the order. On a first down from the Jets 12-yard line, Chubb broke free and scored to give the Browns a 30-17 lead.

“We had the advantage of having the opportunity on that last Chubb touchdown,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “It just gave us an (opportunity).”

Chubb could have come out again at 1 and the Browns could have killed the last two minutes and celebrated the win. Stefanski is usually two steps ahead in his thinking, but he missed it by not asking Chubb to come down, and Chubb missed it by not doing it himself, scoring his third touchdown instead. the day.

“It’s a scenario where it’s up to me to communicate it to the group,” Stefanski said. “We have already done that. That said, we have to close this match.

Saleh said the Jets will use Chubb’s score as a teachable moment in their Friday strategy sessions.

“It’s going to come across as a teachable time for us on Friday,” he said. “I’m sure Coach Stefanski is very, very detailed. I’m sure it’s in their vocabulary and I’m sure it’s just one of those times. They scored and echoed on the helmet was ‘They gave us a chance, let’s see what happens.’ ”

II. The kick

Cade York was Cleveland’s new darling after hitting a 58-yard field goal last week to beat Carolina in its first professional game. But he missed the extra point on Chubb’s touchdown on Sunday that seemed harmless at the time but ultimately made the difference in the game.

Cade regularly kicks over 60 yards in warm-ups, but he just pushed the kick wide on the extra point.

“I thought I kicked him pretty good,” York said. “I don’t know why it took off on me. … You just can’t get ahead of yourself in the NFL. The games are so close that you have to do everything you can.

III. Special teams

Cleveland special teams were terrible all afternoon, but especially late. The Jets executed a fake punt that resulted in their first touchdown after the Browns defense stopped them. Then York missed the extra point and the hands team failed to recover a game-winning kick despite knowing the direction he was heading.

Stefanski called a timeout after the Jets lined up. The Browns expected the Jets’ Braden Mann to aim left. There were no surprises, no gimmicks. Just a standard kick that Mann placed perfectly between Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and David Bell. Amari Cooper was slow to get there and the Jets recovered.

Saleh said he knew the Jets were going to score again after recovering the kick.

“Once that happened there was no doubt that we would score once we got the ball back,” he said.

IV. Defense

All of the above errors as standalone errors are of little significance to the overall result. Added together in a perfect storm of incompetence, this demonstrates a worst-case scenario of what can happen when one mistake is compounded by another.

And yet, none of this would have cost the Browns a win had they been able to stop. Just one stop. The defense, which was expected to be a force at the start of the season, is instead the biggest mystery.

How can this keep happening? Particularly behind in games?

By my count, the defense gave up 172 fourth-quarter yards and 17 points last week at Carolina after the Browns dominated the game for three quarters. It happened again on Sunday. The Jets totaled 161 yards in the fourth quarter — 119 over the final two minutes — after the game seemed out of reach.

These are numbers that will get people fired, especially here with emotional and reactionary owners.

Just as the Panthers’ Robbie Anderson escaped last week for a 75-yard touchdown on a missed play, so did Corey Davis on Sunday. Joe Flacco’s 66-yard lift to Davis on missed coverage drew the Jets to 30-24 and brought them to life.

Stefanski wouldn’t assess blame, but a source with knowledge of the defensive play appeal said Denzel Ward blew cover. He was in the wrong cover. Given Ward’s recent $100 million contract extension, such mental errors are not acceptable.

“It was a bust. Not everyone was playing the same call,” Johnson III said. “Communication is sending and receiving. Guys send. Some don’t receive.”

The Jets moved the ball just as easily after recovering the onside kick. It wasn’t as dramatic as a missed coverage, but the guys were open all over the field. Flacco needed nine plays and a minute to get them back in the end zone for a stunning win.

With another game Thursday against the Steelers, the Browns don’t have much time to clean up any defensive gaffes. They will probably practice once, Tuesday, before the game against Pittsburgh. These are usually more walkthroughs than full practices, but we’ll see how the fallout from this affects the practice week. Jadeveon Clowney limped off the field and looks questionable at best for Thursday. His absence would be another blow to a team that can’t afford to go wrong defensively much more.

Communication shouldn’t be that difficult, but the Browns are 58 yards away from being 0-2.

“We have a young football team, and unfortunately that youth has sometimes shown itself here,” Stefanski said. “We have to grow very quickly.”

(Photo by Nick Chubb: Scott Galvin/USA Today)

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