CLEVELAND - With 6:07 left in overtime, Dan Bailey kicked the field goal that finally tipped the game Dallas’ way. The journey there was an adventure full of folly.
Ugly play and questionable calls led to an overtime that eventually culminated in a 23-20 Cowboys win, as both teams struggled countless times to seize victory.
A 13-0 halftime lead was not enough for the Browns, a first half full of promise slipping away as the offense stagnated and defense became passive in the second half.
The contrast was stark. In the game’s first thirty minutes, Cleveland outgained Dallas 192 to 71 yards. But coming out of the locker room, that all changed. The Browns became conservative both offensively and defensively. While they punted three times, the Cowboys stormed back with three straight scoring drives.
Tony Romo’s 28 yard strike to Dez Bryant gave the Cowboys their first lead of the game with 6:46 to go. The physical Bryant was a pain for the Browns’ overmatched secondary all afternoon, hauling in 12 receptions for 145 yards.
Holding the Dallas rushing game in check was no issue. It was Buster Skrine and the secondary missing Joe Haden that was torn apart, responsible for 257 of the Cowboys’ 320 yards and seven penalties. Moving down the field was too easy for the Cowboys, dinking and dunking their way to first downs with plenty of cushion for receivers.
Officiating was iffy along the way too, especially in crucial moments down the stretch. The Browns were the beneficiary of a horse collar penalty, which appeared to be a pull of the hair, not jersey, of returner Josh Cribbs, that put them in position for a quick strike touchdown from Brandon Weeden to Benjamin Watson to take the lead.
However, once Weeden put the Browns up 20-17, Dallas gained a big chunk of yardage on a T.J. Ward personal foul that looked like a legal hit. Sheldon Brown’s downfield pass interference, which was less contestable, put the Cowboys in position for a tying field goal.
After the game, Phil Taylor expressed his frustration through a tweet: “How much they paying these refs man!”
Blaming the refs is a stretch when the Browns have plenty to blame on themselves.
Dallas, no stranger to late-game collapses, gift-wrapped multiple opportunities. Most notable was a classic Tony Romo counter-fail moment, coughing the ball up two plays after a shaky Weeden fumbled deep in Cowboys territory.
But the Browns couldn’t capitalize, failing to score twice from the one yard line. The 4th and goal call and execution were a real head-scratcher, Weeden unable to keep a fade intended for Jordan Cameron in the field of play - a terrible pass on a confounding play call.
While the defense then stymied the Cowboys to keep their hopes alive and allow the offense to grab the late lead, they could not stop Romo and company on the final drive of regulation. Penalties were backbreaking, and while the Cowboys couldn’t end the game with a touchdown, they did force overtime with the field goal.
Even in overtime, Dallas didn't score on their first possession after winning the toss. However, the Browns swiftly went three-and-out before Bailey's field goal capped the contest.
Whether it’s to launch or finish, failure in some form is a familiar foe. It’s either an early hole too big to escape or implosion too unbearable to witness.
Losing comes in many forms and the Browns typically like to do it in the pull the rug out from under you manner. Get sucked in and have your heart ripped out again.
Run out to a double-digit advantage and have it whittled away.
Take the lead with 1:07 left and see it vanish the next possession.
Watch the other team celebrate - again.
It’s more clear now it’s only a matter of when, not if, change happens.
Mike Holmgren is out the door come season’s end. New owner Jimmy Haslam has already taken the reigns and Joe Banner is transitioning into the role of CEO.
The clock is ticking on head coach Pat Shurmur. As the losses pile up, his fate becomes more of a formality.
For Weeden, the jury is still out. His up-and-down moments are indicative of a rookie. But at 29, everyone knows Weeden is not your typical rookie starting quarterback. How he performs in this final stretch of the season will mean a lot.
Playoffs may be out of the question - they have been for awhile realistically - but there’s still plenty on the line to prove.
Just watch Haslam’s expressions each week and you can see what’s coming. Moves will be made and the worse this gets, the wider they will reach.
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