Second-guessed: Browns coach Pat Shurmur wishes he had some decisions back in loss to Ravens
BEREA, Ohio – Browns coach Pat Shurmur slipped into his chair behind the microphone. Before beginning his Monday news conference, Shurmur looked at his notes and let out an audible sigh.
"Oh, boy," he said.
He knew what was coming.
Questions. Tough ones.
One day after a 25-15 loss to Baltimore, Shurmur was questioned about several decisions, including a critical one in the fourth quarter that backfired Sunday, as the Browns (2-7) lost to their AFC North nemesis for the 10th straight time and headed into their bye week a frustrated, disappointed and even angry team.
With time to reflect on another winnable game the Browns let slip away, Shurmur, who fell to 6-19 in two seasons, acknowledged that there were some things he could have — and maybe should have — done differently.
"There were some decisions, when I look back on them now, of course, that don't work out," he said. "Then I'll say, 'Well, you know what? Maybe we should have done something else.' That's what you do on Monday."
Shurmur's choice not to punt on fourth-and-2 at his own 28-yard line with 3:53 remaining and two timeouts may be the one he probably regrets most.
After the Ravens, who did nothing on offense for more than two quarters, took a 22-15 lead on Joe Flacco's 19-yard TD pass to Torrey Smith and a 2-point conversion, the Browns got the ball at their 20. They gained eight yards on two completions by quarterback Brandon Weeden, who then threw high to wide receiver Greg Little on fourth down.
Baltimore took over and got a 43-yard field goal from Justin Tucker to open a 10-point lead, essentially ending the game with 2:53 left.
Shurmur doesn't regret the decision, but he did admit that he could have sent in a better play selection from the sideline.
"What I would like us to do is execute, give him a better play and make it," he said. "I watched the game last night, the (New York) Giants punted in that situation and never saw the ball again. Being that we did get the ball back, yeah, I would consider doing something different if I can guarantee I'm going to get the ball back."
The Browns' biggest issue Sunday was their inability to score inside the Ravens' 20-yard line. The red zone was where Cleveland touchdown drives went to die.
Instead of getting any TDs, the Browns had to settle for five field goals by consistent kicker Phil Dawson, who has made 23 straight attempts dating to last season. The one time Cleveland got in the end zone, Weeden's 18-yard TD pass to rookie Josh Gordon was nullified by an illegal formation penalty against running back Chris Ogbonnaya, who lined up wide but was the eighth player on the line of scrimmage.
On Cleveland's next play, Shurmur called a draw for running back Trent Richardson on third down that was stopped for no gain and the Browns settled for Dawson's 41-yard field goal to take a 15-14 lead.
Shurmur said he played it safe in that location on the field to ensure the Browns, who trailed 14-0 in the first quarter, wouldn't waste the scoring chance.
"I did not want a holding call. I did not want a sack. I did not want anything crazy that knocked us out of that situation," he said. "At that point, a field goal puts us ahead. That's why I made that call. Now, if the situation is different, maybe then you take another crack at the end zone."
There's little doubt the Browns have improved. After being blown out often last season, they've been competitive in every game but don't yet have the wins to show for their progress. They're still making too many mistakes, like the one by Ogbonnaya, who tried to back off the line before the ball was snapped.
It's enough to keep a coach up at night or make his hair grayer.
"That's why I look like I do," Shurmur cracked. "You don't want that to happen. There are not a lot of great answers sometimes for it, other than you get it fixed, so it doesn't happen again. That's where the mental toughness comes in. You've got to find a way to correct it and move on."
The bye comes at an opportune time for the young Browns, who are mentally and physically worn out and need a break to recharge. After practice on Tuesday, players will be dismissed until next week. Cleveland's coaches, though, will stick around to try and fix several problems, including some confusion in sending in plays.
During Sunday's loss, the Browns were forced to burn three timeouts because they couldn't get plays in on time to Weeden. It's been a recurring issue as Cleveland has struggled substituting personnel and getting off the snap before the play clock expired.
"That's something we're going to talk about," Shurmur said. "We'll make changes and streamline some of things. That's what's nice about the bye week. It's about the Browns. 'What can we do better as we move forward?'"
Scoring inside the opponents' 20 will be another priority as the Browns rank 31st overall in red zone efficiency. Weeden, too, has to improve in the fourth quarter as his 63.2 rating in the final period is second-worst in the league. His five interceptions in the fourth lead all QBs.
"We need to improve there," Shurmur said.
Most importantly, the Browns need to win.
As one of the team's most respected players, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is telling his young teammates to keep working. He has seen previous seasons unravel and he won't let that happen again.
"Right now, we got to fight out of this stigma as the same old Browns," he said. "There's no rule, there's no book saying we can't win the rest of our ballgames. It's just a matter of staying the course and not getting your head down."
NOTES: Shurmur will ask the NFL for clarification on two penalties against Gordon, one for pass interference and one for unnecessary roughness on a crack-back block. He also wants an explanation on the call against safety T.J. Ward for roughing Flacco, a penalty that helped Baltimore's go-ahead TD drive. ... The Browns will be featured in a series documentary on Travel Channel next month. The series will show how the team coordinates travel on road trips and offer glimpses of game-week preparation.