An undermanned roster led 24-17 in the third quarter, but the Browns’ defense could not sustain some early success and was eventually overwhelmed.
At key points of the fourth quarter, the Browns were without three key players. Linebacker Jamie Collins hurt his knee in the first quarter. Quarterback DeShone Kizer hurt his ribs in the third — and when he returned with 4:24 left, the Browns were down 14. And right tackle Shon Coleman was sidelined as he was tested for a concussion.
However, there were bright spots.
Kizer played well until he was hurt, then came back and did what he could. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson ran well. Emmanuel Ogbah had two sacks. And there even was a Kenny Britt sighting, as he was able to turn a short pass into a touchdown in the first quarter.
The Browns made mistakes, including at the end of the first half when they botched the most basics in clock management. But a winless team came to Detroit to win a game, and had its chances. Whether that’s a step forward or merely the way it is can be judged by each individual.
What it means: If the Browns played this way all season, there would be unhappiness about the record but credit for an undermanned team competing to win. This game was competitive from the start. Ogbah and Myles Garrett started fast, Kizer looked more comfortable and the Browns were aggressive and successful running the ball. This team makes mistakes — witness the end of the first half — but it has not quit or given up.
What I liked: Until he hurt his ribs early in the fourth quarter, Kizer had his best game of the season. Prior to the injury, Kizer completed 15 of 24 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came on a good read, as Kizer saw a blitz and threw to the hot receiver (Britt), who was able to make someone miss and score. Kizer was careful with the ball and made a nice throw to Seth DeValve before the Browns’ third touchdown. In the first game after the Browns almost traded for A.J. McCarron, Kizer looked more comfortable than he has in a long time. He did return to the game, but by that point the deficit was too large with too little time left. He finished 21-of-37 for 232 yards with one touchdown and one interception as the Browns tried a last-gasp comeback.
What I didn’t like: The end of the first half was a series of clock-management mishaps that saw the Browns blow a chance to tie the game or cut the deficit with a field goal. Hue Jackson inexplicably took his third and final timeout when he didn’t need to, with 1:17 left, and as a result the offense had to work quickly when it got to the 2-yard line with 19 seconds left. A pass to David Njoku was thrown too far outside and he could not his feet down inbounds. Then, with no timeouts, the Browns ran a quarterback sneak on second-and-goal. It went nowhere, and the Lions wisely made sure the Browns could not get up to spike the ball for a field goal try. The half ended in embarrassing fashion, with the Browns frustrated they had come so close to a game-tying drive. The Browns have had several clock-management mishaps this season and last; this may have been the worst.
Fantasy fallout: Give Crowell the ball and he will respond. On Sunday he scored a touchdown and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Crowell and Johnson each contributed, as the Browns showed the design they had to win games this season can work when they actually follow the plan.
Finding the formula: It took a while but the Browns finally found their running game — and they used it. Cleveland ran for 201 yards in the loss, 118 in the second half. This against a good run defense. The Browns’ formula when the season started was to play good defense and run the ball; to win conservatively, or at least try to. Until Sunday, the Browns hadn’t committed to the run. The success they had against the Lions shows how they should approach the rest of the season.
Doomed by mistakes: One of Detroit’s touchdowns came when DeValve fumbled while trying to make a first down after a catch. The Lions returned the turnover for a touchdown. Entering the game, teams since 2000 have won only 29 percent of the games (140-330) in which they give up a fumble return for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, with Kizer in the locker room, Cody Kessler had Bryce Treggs wide open down the left sideline for what would have been an easy game-tying touchdown. Kessler overthrew Tregg by 10 yards, much to the receiver’s chagrin. Jackson said the Browns have to play perfectly to win. Those two imperfect plays significantly hurt the cause. Add the end of the first half and the fact the defense gave up 31 points after starting fast, and it’s not tough to see why the Browns lost for the ninth time in nine games.
What’s next: The Browns return home to face the much-improved Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.