Who choked worse, the Browns or the Crew? The correct answer is 'Yes' | Michael Arace

Michael Arace
The Columbus Dispatch
With their loss to the Jets, the Browns became the first NFL team to blow a 13-point lead in the final two minutes of a game since 2001.

The Browns and the Crew submitted their fans to homefield meltdown. The choke jobs happened within minutes of one another, in Cleveland and Columbus, on a sunny, warm Sunday afternoon. Which was worse? The Browns’ 31-30 loss to the New York Jets? Or the Crew’s 1-1 tie with the Portland Timbers? 

The correct answer is “yes.” 

There are metrics for everything these days; and after Nick Chubb scored his third touchdown of the day to put the Browns ahead 30-17 with 1:55 remaining, the Browns win probability reached at 99.9%. And then they lost. To the Jets.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Browns were also the last team to blow a 13-point lead in the final two minutes of an NFL game – to the Bears in Week 9 in 2001. There followed 2,229 consecutive league games in which no such thing happened. Then, the Browns did it again. Golly, that’s something.

The good news for the Browns (1-1) is every team in the AFC North lost over the weekend. The Browns’ passing game is not formidable, their secondary tends to get beat and, suddenly, their special teams are a mess. Yet, they’re tied for first place in the division.  Next up, the Browns have the Steelers at home on Thursday night, on a streaming channel that was invented last week.

At times like this, one wonders about curses, hexes, kismet, etc.

The Browns opened the vault to sign quarterback Deshaun Watson. They embraced his extensive history of sexual harassment and sexual assault accusations. What will their record be when Watson finishes serving his 11-game suspension? 

And it wasn't only the Browns who collapsed. There's also the Crew

The Columbus Crew have won 13 of 29 games in their new stadium.

The Crew is under the same corporate umbrella, the Haslam Sports Group. And, lest we forget, they attempted a brand overhaul as they prepared to open their new stadium last year. It felt unnatural.

Fans revolted at the new name, “Columbus SC," and the sneaky attempt to closet the team’s traditional banana-yellow jerseys. Ownership conceded, restored “Columbus Crew” and promised that the Gold would be put back into the Black & Gold, which it was. Eventually. 

Crew fans are very particular about these things, and for good reason: They rose up to save the league’s first chartered franchise, and its traditions. The 2020 MLS Cup title was a karmic testament to their victory. 

They could not save their old logo, which dated to 2015. It was a logo they liked, generally speaking, even though it was introduced by a former absentee owner who tried to kill soccer in Columbus. The new logo kind of looks like a bug hitting a windshield. 

Since May 21, 2021, the day the rebranding was announced, the Crew are 21-18-21. They have won 13 of 29 games in their new stadium. They missed the playoffs last year, and they are on the verge of missing the playoffs again this year. If they do, it’ll be the first time they missed two years in a row since 2012-13. 

Was the rebranding that bad? Is this their new brand – mediocrity? They haven’t won two games in a row all season, and now, after sliding out of the last playoff position, they are called upon to do some serious winning in the last three games. Is that going to happen?

Like the Browns, the Crew were booed by their home fans Sunday. Unlike the Browns, what happened to the Crew was not epic. Sure, the Crew gave up a game-tying goal in the waning seconds of second-half stoppage time, which is brutal. But that sort of thing happens all the time to the Crew. 

Going strictly by the numbers, the Crew aren’t the worst team in the league when it comes to blowing leads. The difference for Columbus is in the script. In their two-act mysteries, the Crew look like they can solve any case in front of them – and then, just before the final curtain falls, blam-blam, they shoot themselves in the foot. Their draw with Portland Sunday was just another re-run.  

The Crew have given up a league-high 15 goals after the 75th minute, including three in the past two games. They’ve given up six goals in second-half stoppage time. 

If you are a Crew fan, the saddest part about all of this is that there are some all-time true Crew greats playing in and around their primes right now – Cucho Hernandez, Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe, Jonathan Mensah, maybe even throw Eloy Room in there – and this may be another year when the core of an excellent team is squandered. 

marace@dispatch.com

Editor's note: This story initially misidentified the year the Browns last gave up a 13-point lead in the last two minutes of the game as 1993, and the story has been corrected to reflect that.