The Cleveland Browns have accomplished two things of late. First, they’ve quickly developed a solid, young backup quarterback in PJ Walker. Second, and more importantly, they’ve also reminded everyone why they paid a king’s ransom for Deshaun Watson in the first place.
With the Cleveland Browns up by a slender field goal and just two minutes in the game, Walker had a pass batted at the line of scrimmage. It popped straight up in the air and came down in the arms of Seattle Seahawks defender Julian Love. Seattle didn’t even need all of the 1:57 and two timeouts to get the ball to rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba for the go-ahead touchdown. Cleveland, so close to their best start in two decades, instead fell to 4-3 on a 24-20 loss in Seattle.
Walker came within a hair’s breadth of making NFL history Sunday afternoon in Seattle. Never before had a quarterback led his team to three consecutive comeback victories.
The stage was set when the Browns took their first lead on a Dustin Hopkins field goal late in the third quarter. The team’s top-ranked defense had settled in after a terrible start. Walker looked calm and confident in the pocket, and even the team’s banged-up offensive line gave him time to get to his second and third reads.
However, as the clock wound down, the Seahawks defense began to figure Walker out. In fact, Walker didn’t complete a single pass from the 14:17 mark in the 4th quarter on, watching his last six passes find dirt or blue jerseys. Walker finished the frame 1/7 for 6 yards and an interception.
As good as Walker has been under the circumstances, this underscores the need for the team’s franchise quarterback, Watson, to get back on the field. He played his best game as a Brown and looked like the Watson of old against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3, but he has barely played since. He looked awful against the Indianapolis Colts last week. Clearly, his shoulder has not healed.
The Cleveland Browns continue to provide maddeningly little information concerning their quarter-billion-dollar investment. Officially, he’s “day-to-day” or “week-to-week” every time Head Coach Kevin Stefanski is asked, but after he’s essentially missed four games, that label has long worn thin.
Either the team doesn’t know, or they’re not telling. Neither option bodes well, especially for a team as talented and financially over-extended as this one is. The window for a championship run has a year left, maybe two at the outside, and they’re already without all-world running back Nick Chubb.
In the last two weeks, the Cleveland Browns have won through a combination of gutsy play and some big breaks going their way at critical times. When the team has won on its play, it’s usually the defense leading the way. The defense makes the team believe it can win, and they never get down on themselves for their mistakes.
That trend persisted Sunday for the most part, but the Seahawks continued to chip away at the cracks in the Cleveland Browns defense along the way. In particular, Seattle scored two touchdowns right out of the gate, the first time that offense has accomplished that in over a year. Pete Carroll’s team took advantage of the Browns tendency to over-pursue in the backfield, tossing quick passes up and down the line of scrimmage, and were up a pair of scores midway through the first.
This is the second straight week in which offensive coordinators have taken advantage of the Browns aggression. Last week, the Indianapolis Colts used it to allow backup quarterback Gardner Mischew two rushing touchdowns and to draw the team offsides on hard counts. This week, it was Geno Smith working up and down the line, using Geno Smith to create time and its litany of playmakers to get the ball in space, often needing to beat only a single defender for a big gain.
As good as the Browns defense has been, it’s going to have to start showing a few different looks as the team hits the back stretch of the season.
The Browns return to Cleveland next weekend and will likely face their former QB2 Joshua Dobbs, who has been starting for the 1-7 Arizona Cardinals. They follow that up with back-to-back division games at Baltimore and back home against Pittsburgh.
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