The Browns have lost games in puzzling ways, but none more puzzling than Sunday's defeat in Jacksonville.
The Browns forced six turnovers yet still managed to give a game to the Jaguars and lose 24-20. They got 10 points from the takeaways, seven when Abe Elam returned a fumble he forced for a touchdown. On five other turnovers, the Browns got three points, that on a short field after the Browns lost one yard on three plays.
On four consecutive second-half possessions, the Browns forced turnovers. They gained four yards, lost one, lost one and gained two on their possessions following.
"To only get 10 points off turnovers, six turnovers, that's not good enough," coach Eric Mangini said. "When we have those chances, we have to close them out."
Some of the onus falls on the Browns, but the Jacksonville defense deserves credit as well. The Jaguars followed the second-half blueprint of the Jets, who stacked the middle to stop Peyton Hillis and took away tight end Ben Watson.
That forced the Browns to turn to outside receivers, and Cleveland simply lacks playmakers on the offense. The Browns were buoyed by wins over New Orleans and New England, but two losses in a row have them grumbling about being 3-7, with six of the losses by seven points or fewer.
REPORT CARD vs. JAGUARS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Colt McCoy and the offense looked good the first half, but the Jaguars slightly altered their approach in the second. Jacksonville concentrated on stopping Peyton Hillis and forcing the Browns into third-and-difficult situations. When they did, the Jaguars blitzed. A lot. The result: six sacks, compounded by the fact McCoy sprained his ankle on a sack. McCoy fought and never gave up, but in the end the team's lack of offensive playmakers was glaring. The Browns must concentrate on this need in the offseason.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Running the ball was a priority, coach Eric Mangini said, and the Browns ran for just 88 yards on 26 carries. McCoy had 39 of those yards on scrambles, and though they count, they are not a true indicator of a team's running success. Browns backs -- Peyton Hillis and Mike Bell -- totaled 49 yards between them. Until the Browns can force a team to do otherwise, defenses will sell out to stop the run. And as long as they are successful the way Jacksonville was, the Browns will struggle.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- Being a part of forcing six turnovers and intercepting four passes is cause to smile. The Browns' secondary was active and aggressive and deserved better for most of the game. However, the defense let down badly when it most needed to come through. That happened with some horrific tackling on Maurice Jones-Drew's 75-yard screen pass that set up the Jaguars' game-winning touchdown. All the Browns needed to do was wrap him up; they didn't. And because they didn't, they lost.
RUSH DEFENSE: D -- Ignore Jones-Drew's 75-yard screen pass and he still had an outstanding game, with 133 yards on 23 carries. That average of 5.8 yards per carry seemed to make coach Eric Mangini sick. For good reason. Teams that don't stop the run usually don't win, even when they get six takeaways.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- A rare off day by Phil Dawson marred this group, which was hurt before the game started by the absence of Josh Cribbs to a foot injury. Dawson missed twice from 51 yards. Many good kickers miss from that distance, but Dawson's misses on a blustery day negated much of the momentum the Browns gained from their turnovers. The offense did nothing to help, and Dawson is usually as reliable as they come (he did make a 41-yarder to put Cleveland in front with less than two minutes left), but a made field goal might have helped change the direction of the game.
COACHING: C -- Fans who were ready to erect a statue of Mangini are again angry at him, as the Browns have dropped to 3-7. The schedule lightens up a bit, but the improvement is not easy to see. Against Jacksonville, the Browns used timeouts poorly, wasting two on defense. After the game, Mangini lamented not having any for the final drive. He lamented not running the ball, but the offense tried few changes to provide a spark. The offense was hurt by not being able to use the Wildcat due to Cribbs' absence, but the unit did not hold up its end following all the Jacksonville turnovers. The Browns can say they are close because they have lost so many close games, but at some point it becomes evident close is not good enough, and the close losses are a result of a lack of talent, poor decisions, or both.