Part II – 2012 Year in Review – the Cleveland Browns
The Browns finished up the pre-season going 2-2 and were looking to excel in the regular season. The roster was young, athletic, and untested – fans were eager to see how they acclimate to the professional game. There were many, anticipated challenges that would accompany the seventeen week campaign; surely the Browns could not use any additional ordeals. However, that was exactly the case just a couple of weeks before the season commenced.
Sale of the Team: In early August, it was announced that then-owner Randy Lerner would sell the franchise to Jimmy Haslam (the CEO of Pilot Flying J) for a sum of one billion dollars. The team was bequeathed to Lerner from his late father (Al), during the 2002 season. One of Al’s wishes was to have Randy maintain ownership for at least ten years, which was the outcome. As far as the fans go, excitement was very high. During the younger Lerner’s tenure (beginning in his first full season of 2003), the team only saw one winning season and never reached the post-season. Many coaches and general managers were hired and fired, as well as multiple quarterbacks seeing the field. This signaled a much-needed change in the front office, with additional ones on the horizon. Coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert were put on notice and the success of the Browns in 2012 would determine their future in 2013. Despite the distraction, the team was preparing to open the season on September 9th.
Regular Season (Games 1 – 8): Despite both first-round rookie draft picks struggling, the Browns were in position to defeat the heavily favored Philadelphia Eagles. Brandon Weeden threw four interceptions and had only 118 yards, while Trent Richardson put up just thirty-nine yards on nineteen carries. Defensively, D’Qwell Jackson recovered a fumbled and an interception (for a touchdown) for the Browns. Joe Haden, Craig Robertson, and L.J. Fort also had interceptions for the team – however it was Fort’s dropped interception late in the game that prevented the Browns from stealing the victory. Alas, Michael Vick got another chance and drove it down the field to go ahead 17 – 16, before Weeden’s interception ended the contest.
Without Joe Haden being available in Cincinnati, the Browns surrendered 301 yards and three scores through the air. The secondary struggled mightily, and three different wide receivers for the Bengals found their way into the end zone. Both Weeden and Richardson had bounce back games from the opener; Weeden threw for 322 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Richardson had over 140 total yards and two scores (but it was not enough). Allowing an early punt return touchdown was the discrepancy in the contest; as the Browns dropped to 0 – 2 following a 34 – 27 game at Paul Brown Stadium.
In one of their more disappointing outings of the season, the visiting Buffalo Bills dominated the Browns. Once again, the opposing signal caller played exceptionally – Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to find his target three times in the end zone. C.J. Spiller (pre-injury) and Tashard Choice got it done in the running back spot; the two combined for 107 rushing yards, fifty receiving yards, and a touchdown. Weeden’s average outing (237 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions), and Richardson’s lackluster performance (fifty-one total yards) killed the offense. Perhaps a few more veterans on the offensive side of the football would have kept the game closer – rookies could not keep up with their opponent en route to a 24 – 14 defeat.
On a Thursday primetime contest in Baltimore, the Browns came up a few yards short in a 23 – 16 loss to the Ravens. Tossing fifty-two passes, Brandon Weeden gained threw for 320 yards, but his interception (returned for a touchdown by Cary Williams) all but cemented the contest. The young, visiting team kept the contest close, with Richardson’s rushing touchdown late in the first half. Greg Little’s second season appeared to be disappointing highlighted by a dropped a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Joe Flacco torched the Joe Haden-less secondary for 356 yards and a touchdown. The Browns limited Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in the rushing game, but the team could not make enough plays to garner their first win of the season.
It was a great start in East Rutherford, New Jersey, as the Browns took an early 14 – 0 lead over the Giants. However, that quickly evaporated following a Weeden interception (which was returned deep into Browns’ territory) and a Giants’ touchdown. Cribbs’ fumble on the ensuing kickoff also lead to another touchdown. Eli Manning hit Victor Cruz three times in the end zone for scores, while Ahmad Bradshaw had 200 yards on the ground; this was the worst performance by the Browns’ defense in the 2012 season. On a positive note, it appeared to be a break out game for rookie Josh Gordon – the wide out hauled in a two scores and finished with eighty-two yards. If it were not for his play, the game would have been worse than the 41 – 27 final.
Finally, the Browns got into the win column – the team was able to defeat the Bengals at home by a score of 34 – 24. After trailing at halftime, the home team forced four turnovers (one fumble and three interceptions), and Sheldon Brown’s touchdown upped the lead to seventeen. Weeden and Gordon hooked up for a huge seventy-one yard touchdown, proving the prior week was not a fluke. After sustaining a rib injury, Richardson left the game and veteran Montario pick up the slack well. He averaged almost four yards per attempt and scored a touchdown – giving fans faith he can be a dependable runner in limited action. The Browns’ defense gave up 381 yards passing, but the turnovers were the difference in the game.
Facing an inexperienced team like the Colts, the Browns had an opportunity to win consecutive games. However, Josh Gordon’s drop of a touchdown late, coupled with the subsequent punt on fourth down and one yard (in Colts’ territory) cost the team the win. Andrew Luck only had 186 yards passing, but the team’s running attack dominated the contest. Vick Ballard and Delone Carter combined for 125 yards, while Luck ran in two scores himself. This was an extremely disappointing performance by the run defense. Having Phil Taylor (still) sidelined from his injury was hurting the interior of the defense. Weeden’s two touchdowns were not enough, and the Browns lost 17 – 13.
The heavy rain and wind in Cleveland Browns Stadium made for miserable weather and poor statistics. Weeden and Philip Rivers combined for only 283 yards; the running game dictated the outcome. Richardson had 122 yards and the only touchdown of the contest; he accounted for over half of the team’s total yardage. Holding the Chargers to a pair of field goals, in addition to a critical dropped pass by Robert Meachem in the third quarter, put the Browns in a position to win. The Chargers were driving late, but Buster Skrine’s deflection halted the go-ahead drive. In the end, the Browns pulled out an ugly 7 – 6 victory, but many fans could not complain as the old adage goes “a win is a win”.
At the halfway point of the season, the Browns were just 2 – 6; they looked young, inexperienced, and error-prone. However, the locker room was still upbeat and anticipating to a gigantic improvement in the latter half of the 2012 campaign.