Cleveland Browns fans had every right to boo after epic collapse
CLEVELAND — In the aftermath of one of the most shocking collapses in Browns history, Myles Garrett wanted to have it both ways.
Needing only two sacks to set the Browns career record, two-time All-Pro Garrett said Friday he hoped fans in FirstEnergy Stadium would chant his name like they did a year ago if he had another memorable performance.
But after Sunday’s 31-30 home loss to the New York Jets in which the Browns blew a 13-point lead with 1:55 remaining, Garrett was disappointed that some in the crowd booed as they fled.
Asked if it made it worse to have such a collapse before an energized crowd for the home opener, Garrett said, “The more disappointing thing was the booing at the end. It was not the most optimal ending that we want. Of course, we want to win. Of course, we want to play out the game and it end 30-17 and we get a pick or a strip sack to end the game, but that’s not always how it goes.
“These guys are still putting our asses on the line and playing as hard as they can, and they should be respected as such. It’s two games. We have plenty more games to play, especially this next one coming up in front of the home crowd. We have a lot of time to correct what we’re doing, so we don’t want to see this crowd, this stadium give up on us this early. We want to see them completely behind us.
“It was disappointing for everybody. It’s absolutely disappointing for us as a team just knowing we had them with our foot on their throat and we didn’t finish ‘em. That’s completely on us. We learn from this and we correct it and come back strong.”
Garrett is right that it’s too early to give up on the Browns, especially with their 1-1 record matched by the Steelers and Ravens and the defending AFC champion Bengals are 0-2. The Steelers visit for a nationally televised game Thursday.
But in this case, the boos were deserved.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, NFL teams had won the last 2,229 consecutive games when leading by at least 13 points in the final two minutes. The Browns were the last team to blow such a lead in Week 9 of the 2001 season against the Chicago Bears.
The coach that season was Butch Davis, the team’s best in the expansion era before the Browns’ Kevin Stefanski was named NFL Coach of the Year in 2020. Behind quarterback Tim Couch and defensive end Courtney Brown's three sacks and a fumble return for a touchdown, the Browns led 21-7. But Bears quarterback Shane Matthews threw two touchdown passes in the final 28 seconds and the Bears won 27-21 in overtime on a 16-yard interception return by Mike Brown.
That’s part of the reason the fans deserved to boo. They’ve been paying to watch or been glued to the tube for such mind-boggling losses for years.
The team’s alarming M.O. in the first two games also gave them the right to express their anger.
In the season-opening 26-24 victory at Carolina, when the Browns led 20-7 at halftime, the defense gave up 125 yards on two plays — receiver Robbie Anderson’s 75-yard touchdown reception and a 50-yard catch by tight end Ian Thomas. Both came on blown coverages.
That continued for the second consecutive week. Corey Davis caught a 66-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to cut the Jets’ deficit to 30-24 with 1:22 remaining. Flacco threw the game-winning 15-yard touchdown to former Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson with 22 seconds to go.
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Flacco, 37, showed how well he knows the Browns from his 11 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens when he discussed the reaction to Davis' touchdown.
"When you see him go to the sideline and turn up field, you think he is on top of the corner and you have the ball going. Then, no one is anywhere near him," Flacco said of Davis. "It was a really weird feeling because of how quiet it got in there. You almost felt like there was a penalty or something. Obviously we are in Cleveland, so it makes sense. But that feeling was something I have never felt before."
Fans listened to Browns defensive players and coordinator Joe Woods vow for days that they would get the issues fixed, and it didn’t happen.
“Unexplainable. We’ve just got to talk. Communication is sending and receiving,” Browns free safety John Johnson III said. “So there are guys sending, but some guys aren’t receiving, and that’s the issue.”
For a defense that returned virtually intact, much more was expected.
The same is true on special teams. Coordinator Mike Priefer’s units ranked 30th in the league in 2021 in the annual rankings compiled by longtime NFL writer Rick Gosselin, so improvement seemed likely. The faithful remain unfulfilled.
Rookie kicker Cade York became a cult hero even before his 58-yard game-winner at Carolina. Against the Jets, he missed a costly extra point. The Browns failed to recover an onside kick with 1:22 remaining as receiver Amari Cooper laid back and waited for the ball to come to him instead of batting it out of bounds.
The Jets also pulled off a fake punt on their second series.
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Stefanski took the blame for Nick Chubb not going down short of the goal line instead of scoring on a 12-yard run with 1:55 left. The Jets were out of timeouts, so had Chubb picked up a first down at the 1, the Browns could have knelt three times and run out the clock.
“That is on me to communicate that to the huddle,” Stefanski said. “We have done that before.”
That came on Nov. 15, 2020, in a 10-7 home victory over the Houston Texans and the same principals were involved. Chubb broke loose for a 59-yard dash down the left side, running out of bounds at the 1-yard line with 56 seconds remaining. Baker Mayfield twice took a knee to preserve the victory.
“Our code word for that is ‘no mas’ — we told him that before the third down,” Stefanski said that day. “You're thinking gain the first and go down.”
Add all that up and it made for a crushing Browns performance by coaches and players. Johnson could see why fans booed on the way out.
“We’ve got some of the most loyal fans. I don’t blame ‘em,” Johnson said. “I didn’t feel that way about it. It’s unacceptable.
“We go out there, they pay their hard-earned money to at least see us at least put up a decent show. Come on, we’ve got to win that one. Especially a game like that, we’ve got to win that one.”
Garrett made valid points. There is a long way to go before the AFC North is decided. But the 67,431 who packed FirstEnergy Stadium don’t need Garrett to tell them when to cheer and when to boo.
He’s only been here for five-plus years and played in 70 games. Fans' expectations — and their angst — have been building for decades. It's a wonder the boos weren't louder.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.