CLEVELAND, Ohio - It was a drowsy early afternoon in Cleveland’s First Energy Stadium. A drab Sunday, but the cold was unnoticed by the Browns rabid fans, who showed up early to tailgate and were in their seats to watch their unexpected first-place team by kick-off. The fans were there, the noise was loud, and two football teams were in the house.
The energy, however, was not.
A tepid first quarter left the Texans ahead of the Browns 7–0, as first-time starting quarterback Ryan Mallet looked annoyingly competent and J.J. Watt looked unstoppable. The Browns, meanwhile, had come out flat. The sleepy start was enervating, sucking the life out of the initially boisterous crowd. The OBR chat room started to discuss whether we were watching a “let-down game”.
In the second quarter, as the Browns prepared to punt yet again, defensive juggernaut J.J. Watt again roared through the overmatched right side of the Browns offensive line, zeroing in on recently-engaged Browns punter Spencer Lanning. Watt missed blocking the punt by a thin margin, and then fell into Lanning, providing an unexpected first down to the Browns via a “roughing the punter” infraction.
And we got a glimpse of why football is such a beautiful game.
Suddenly, the drowsy Browns flipped the switch on offense, sending a shockwave through the crowd.
Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer hit a 23-yard deep pass to Taylor Gabriel. Isaiah Crowell blasted two runs for another first down. And then Hoyer fired a quick pass to Andrew Hawkins, in space, who leapt over a Texans player, and carried the ball into the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown reception.
Boom. Just like that. Tie game, 7–7. The crowd, lulled into quietness by the team’s lethargic first-quarter play, explodes.
This is one of the things that make football such a beautiful game. Emotions, both on the field and in the stands, can change in a moment. Even when a team looks to be at its lowest, something can always happen.
Cause, effect. Action, reaction. Even the dullest of performances can snap around in an instant.
The question on Sunday was whether the Browns new-found spark would continue.
It did not.
Isaiah Crowell, a player fans and some in the media have been pleading with the team’s coaches to play, continues to display electric promise matched only by his tendency towards mishaps.
With slightly over two minutes to play in the first half, the Browns were driving towards the Dawg Pound and Texans end zone.
The drive was highlighted by an improbable play where Brian Hoyer dropped the ball, fell to one knee, stood back up and, not hassled for once, casually surveyed the field for an open receiver. He found one, as TE Jim Dray slipped downfield. Hoyer hit him for a 30 yard pass play.
Another fourteen-yard pass to Taylor Gabriel pushed the ball to the Houston 30, where the team reeled off another ten yards on the ground.
Now at the Texans 20, Hoyer handed the ball off to Crowell, who was immediately roughhoused by the Texans line and lost the ball which is recovered by Watt.
And so the switch is flipped again. An energized Texans offense took the ball and - helped immeasurably by a negligible pass rush by the Browns defense - drove for a touchdown just prior to the half, taking a 14–7 lead which would prove to be all they would need.
Action, reaction. It works for both teams.
Sometimes what looks to observers like lethargy is just a team getting beat. This is especially true if the dominance is buried in the scrum of line play.
Browns fans saw it a lot in the reborn team's expansion years. The Browns just looked slow compared to their opposition, a situation which is translate into believing that the team is not trying, or is “flat”.
Sunday, the Browns suffered injuries in the front seven to Karlos Dansby, Billy Winn, and Jabaal Sheard, all of whom walked off the field with their arms draped over the shoulders of helpers. While Winn returned, the results were unchanged.
For all the cries in cyberspace to give Johnny Manziel a chance, the game wasn’t lost at the quarterback position, but just in front of it: Mallett had time to throw. Hoyer did not.
Sometimes this game is just as simple as that.
The Browns 23–7 loss to the Houston Texans Sunday was just one of those games. The Browns lost in the trenches and weren’t able to make up for that with big plays or turnovers. The game ebbed and flowed, one team would briefly grab the momentum and then it would swing back.
But, in the end, the Texans were simply a better team, with a dominating defensive line that Cleveland couldn’t handle.
As disappointed as Browns fans might be to lose their one-week grip on first place, the game itself remains as wonderful as ever.
And, bang, just like that, things can turn around.