The frustrating thing about these Browns is that they’re almost not bad. Now 0-4 after Sunday’s 31-21 loss to Washington, they didn’t become the NFL’s only remaining winless team the usual way, by being that much worse than everyone else. No, this team has required truly creative ways to lose, like a short-notice kicking meltdown last week, and, against the Skins, a pair of late fumbles, the second of which you can watch a hundred times and not see them turn the ball over.
For the third consecutive week the Browns came out of halftime with a lead. This one they squandered with turnovers on three consecutive drives, and two were understandable. The first was a fumble on the very first carry of fullback Malcolm Johnson’s career, pro or college; Duke Johnson was being checked for a concussion and Isaiah Crowell had just taken a punishing tackle on a catch-and-run. The third was a Cody Kessler pass picked off by Josh Norman; Kessler has been surprisingly solid, but he is a third-string quarterback.
The second turnover, though—well, just follow the ball.
Early in the fourth quarter, down four and entering Washington territory, Duke Johnson took the ball to his left and coughed it up. But he quickly bounced back up. At 0:08 of the video above, Johnson comes up holding the ball aloft in his right hand. As he’s walking away, the official, standing over a pile where the ball used to be, signals Skins’ ball. Huh?
Kessler explained what he saw:
“I looked back and I saw a bunch of a guys jumping on the ball, and then within half a second Duke stood up and held it up with his hand. And I think the ref was still trying to find out where the ball was and Duke was yelling at me, ‘It’s right here, hey, I’ve got it right here.’”
Browns players said line judge Sarah Thomas, who ruled it Skins’ ball, told them she saw a Washington player with possession. I’m just honestly not sure when that might’ve happened, it looked like Johnson fell directly on it:
Unfortunately, no camera angle clearly showed the fate of the ball. The play was reviewed, as all turnovers were. An NFL spokesperson said there wasn’t anything to overturn Thomas’s ruling.
“The on-field ruling was a fumble, recovered by Washington. It was confirmed as a fumble in instant replay without the need to stop the game. As to the recovery, several different angles were looked at, but with nothing definitive shown, there was no need to stop the game because the on-field ruling that awarded possession to Washington would have stood.”
Johnson said he recovered his own fumble, but didn’t blame the call for the loss: “I shouldn’t put the refs in position to make that call anyway.” All in all, a very Browns loss for a franchise that is traditionally its own worst enemy. But points for creativity!
“I think the wins are right around the corner. I really do.” Hue Jackson said. Ehhhh...define right around the corner. Because Cleveland gets the Patriots next week, with Tom Brady back from suspension.