Browns All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio was drafted in 2014, so he has survived some of the worst losses in franchise history, including a 1-31 stretch.
But he still called the stunning collapse in Sunday’s 31-30 loss to the New York Jets in the home opener at FirstEnergy Stadium one of the most disappointing highlights of his career.
“It’s up there. We had some frustrations,” Bitonio said Monday on Zoom. “It was one of the rare ways to lose, so it’s definitely up there.”
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The Browns led 30-17 with 1:55 left only to allow Jets quarterback Joe Flacco to throw two touchdown passes in the final 1:22. NFL teams have won 2,229 consecutive games by trailing by at least 13 points in the final two minutes, dating back to the Browns’ loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 9 of the 2001 season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The game was full of moments to guess. Here’s what Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and his players had to say about them.
Why didn’t Browns coach Kevin Stefanski tell Nick Chubb not to score?
Three-time Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb scored on a 12-yard touchdown run with 1:55 to play for the 13-point lead, and rookie kicker Cade York missed the extra point. But the latter should not matter. The Jets were out of time. If Chubb had picked up the first down but failed to score, the Browns could have been down three times to kill the clock.
Before the first-and-10 play from the Jets 12, Stefanski said he should have told quarterback Jacoby Brissett to emphasize the offense to get the first down, not the touchdown. Stefanski also had a chance on the sideline to tell Chubb himself, with running back Kareem Hunt on the play before him. In a 2020 win over the Houston Texans, Chubb did just that, heeding Stefanski’s “no mass” order to preserve a 10-7 win.
Asked if he told Brissett in the headset not to score, Stefanski said Monday, “No, I didn’t. I want to be clear on this one. I could totally tell him in that case.
“Obviously, when you’re behind, you want to do anything to ensure victory. That’s something I have to convey to that huddle. Putting yourself up 14 possible points within two minutes, you should close out the game. Yes, I wish that had been said to Nick and Nick, but it doesn’t change the fact that we had plenty of opportunities to win that game.”
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Although Chubb ran the “no mas” right in 2020, Bitonio didn’t blame Chubb for the scoring.
“I think the landing one is a tough question,” Bitonio said. “We’re trying to get first at the 2. You’re scrambling, you make a move to try to get behind to go up by two scores. Of course, if we find a way to take a knee there or go down, we can win the game while kneeling.
“But it wasn’t like a 100-yard breakaway run where he can easily take his knees and win the game. I’m sure we’re going to get over it and learn from it so next time we’re in that situation we’ll try to stay in a little better. But those are tough, tough plays, bang-bang plays that you’re not going to blame anybody for those situations.”
Why did Kareem Hunt scream on the left vs. Jets?
The Jets used their final timeout with 2:09 left. The next play, on second and 6 from the Jets 24, Hunt ran a sweep to the left sideline and gained 12 yards before being pushed out of bounds with 2:02 to go. If he had gone out of bounds after getting the first down, the Browns could use three knees down after the two-minute warning ran out the clock.
To try to kill more time on the clock and avoid going out of bounds, why didn’t the Browns run to midfield?
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“The play on the outside was a counter play,” Bitonio said. “They’re stacking the box and running a jam front with inside line coverage, so it’s kind of hard to run inside.”
Why didn’t Amari Cooper hit the kick out of bounds?
After a miscommunication on defense led to Flacco’s 66-yard touchdown pass to receiver Corey Davis and Greg Zuerlein’s PAT cut the deficit to 30-24, the Jets executed a perfect onside kick. The kickoff was punter Braden Mann, and cornerback Justin Hardee had a fumble recovery at the Jets 47.
The Jets needed just a minute to score again on a 15-yard throw from Flacco to receiver Garrett Wilson.
On the onside kick, Browns receiver Amari Cooper was able to knock the ball out of bounds, but he waited for it to pass instead of charging and catching it.
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“We just have to find a way in those situations to make a play, find a way to get the ball out of bounds on a kick and those types of things,” Stefanski said. “We’ve got to continue to get our guys to do their jobs … and then get our players through that moment.”
Browns free safety John Johnson III was right over the ball on the sideline kick team and wanted to see the return. But he expressed his frustration at that failure, among others, after the game.
“There’s a tool, you can hit the ball out of bounds if you need to. I think we should probably use that tool,” Johnson said Sunday.
Why was Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s final pass so deep?
The Browns got the ball back at their own 25 with 22 seconds left and Brissett, playing on an injured ankle, scrambled for 21 yards to the Cleveland 46 with 12 seconds to go.
After York kicked a game-winning 58-yard field goal in a 26-24 season-opening win at Carolina on Sept. 11, Stefanski said his mindset was to hit York’s big leg on the 40.
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But York’s missed extra point, which came in the wind of the Punt Dawg end, was a factor. Brissett’s next intended throw to Cooper was intercepted by safety Ashtyn Davis at the Jets 36.
When asked if they went too deep, Stefanski said, “I don’t think so. He was into the Dawg Pound. I don’t think it’s safe to always get to the 40 with your kick. I think we’re trying to get as close as we can to kicking a shorter field goal.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on the Akron Beacon Journal: Browns second-guessed in loss to New York Jets