CLEVELAND - It was a fake-out of the fullest order, Kirk Cousins mystifying the Browns defense and the Browns proving a late season run at the playoffs was not for real.
Two rookie quarterbacks heaved the ball around Sunday and one was significantly better in the Redskins’ 38-21 win over the Browns.
That guy was Redskins' fourth round draft pick, backup quarterback Cousins, who took the reigns under center for the injured Robert Griffin III, not Browns' first round pick Brandon Weeden.
Cousins showed command of a crafty offensive gameplan that exploited the aggressive tendencies of the Browns defense. Time and time again, the Browns bit on play fakes, allowing Cousins to roll out and easily hit a receiver on a crossing route.
“Coach Shanahan put him in a great spot. He’s a good player. Me and Kirk are good buddies," Weeden said about Cousins. "They tailor what he does well. It seemed like they were doing naked [bootlegs] and playaction passes through the middle.”
Cousins' biggest completion came just that way, a 69-yard touchdown bomb that perfectly threaded the needle to Leonard Hankerson.
"They had a lot of success with the underneath boots. There were some times where we lost contain and it gave him a dual option and he could either throw the ball or run it for a first down," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "We tried to get it corrected but it was tough at times because their boots looked exactly like their stretch."
Fifteen starts into his career, Weeden looked much worse than the quarterback on the other side making his first start. Issues that have plagued Weeden -- tipped passes, staring down receivers and poor decision-making -- were on full display.
“I don’t think it was a step back. I don’t think it was his best game but I think that could be said for all of us,” head coach Pat Shurmur said.
Weeden threw two interceptions and finished with a 66.8 quarterback rating. His first interception came with the Browns leading 14-10 after the half and led to a Redskins touchdown. The Browns never led the game again.
“The first one I didn’t see him,” Weeden said about Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson, who made the pick. “Greg threw his hand up. He had his guy beat and they dropped a little fire zone and my offensive line was blocking right in front of me…I couldn’t see him.”
Interception number two, a pass that looked more intended for Redskins linebacker London Fletcher than a Browns receiver, was a different story.
“The second one I did [see him],” Weeden said. “I tried to throw it up over London Fletcher and took an elbow as I followed through…just couldn’t get it up over.”
Fellow rookie Trent Richardson also struggled to get going, only handed the ball twice in the second half and 11 times total. Richardson reached the endzone twice, breaking Jim Brown’s rookie rushing touchdown record, but only mustered 32 total yards.
“Fun stuff” was not present as it was after last week’s blowout of the Chiefs. This week, the Browns finished with just 291 yards of offense.
“We weren’t in a rhythm and weren’t able to put together back to back plays to get some spark. It’s tough when you’re playing 3rd and 10 all the time, 3rd and 8 even against a team like that, it’s challenging,” Weeden said.
Riding momentum from a winning streak, Sunday was a fall back to reality that ended what slim playoff hopes remained. With nine losses, the Browns are eliminated from contention.
“As happy as I’ve been in the past three weeks up here talking about team victories, I think it’s safe to say this was a team loss,” Shurmur said.
Only two weeks remain in the Browns' season but plenty of questions linger.
Is there any chance Pat Shurmur showed enough to save his job during the highs of the three-game win streak? Were the positive signs of life from those wins just a mere mirage against weak opponents?
Will general manager Tom Heckert return? Does Brandon Weeden need to show more in Denver and Pittsburgh to ensure that he keeps his job in 2013?
Compare Weeden to other first round draft picks like Andrew Luck and Griffin, who have changed their team’s fortunes, and it puts his play into perspective.
Watching Shurmur's system on the same field as the Shanahans' was particularly jarring. Weeden was thoroughly outplayed by Cousins, who was set up for success and executed excellently.
Next week, the venue is Mile High and Weeden’s quarterback counterpart is Peyton Manning. It’s hard to top a future Hall of Famer but Weeden will need to play better to get Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner and the new regime to bite on his skills. For Shurmur, that chance looks again to have passed.
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