Turnovers can ruin even the most impressive of comebacks, and the Cleveland Browns’ players and coaches painfully learned that lesson in a 31-20 loss to Washington at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, on Sunday.
The Browns committed turnovers on three straight drives in the second half, and Washington’s 14 points on drives following a fumble and interception proved too much for the young team to overcome.
“We can’t turn the ball over three straight series in the third quarter and the fourth quarter,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “I think we had three in a row, and to me, that’s where the game turned and went the other way.
“I think our guys continue to fight. We got down 14. I think no one on the sideline blinked. We were able to catch them. Obviously, they went back and scored a field goal and we tied them right before the half. I’ve got to solve that riddle after halftime.”
Following four straight scoring drives from the Browns, Washington responded with a 91-yard touchdown drive that running back Chris Thompson capped off with a five-yard touchdown catch from Kirk Cousins with 10:39 to play in the fourth quarter.
After starting the drive with an incompletion, Cousins completed back-to-back passes for 15 and 16 yards respectively to wide receiver Jamison Crowder and running back Matt Jones that moved the ball to Washington’s 40-yard line.
Later in the drive, Cousins threw another incompletion down the right side of the field to wide receiver DeSean Jackson, but that attempt drew a pass-interference penalty on two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden that gave Washington 21 free yards.
Following three straight runs that moved the ball 30 yards, Cousins found Thompson for the touchdown.
Washington’s scoring drive was set up by a fumble from Browns fullback Malcolm Johnson on his first carry of the season as Cleveland was nearing the end zone.
“Malcolm practices at that position carrying the ball,” Jackson said. “Malcolm’s a pro football player that gets paid on our football team and he can carry the ball. He’s got to do a better job.
“That’s a part of football. You’ve got to hold onto the ball.”
Washington cornerback Josh Norman had some plays he would like to have back in the first half, but made up for it with an interception of Browns quarterback Cody Kessler midway through the fourth quarter.
Facing a second-and-two from his own 10-yard line, Kessler was looking for a pass down the left hash mark when Norman jumped the route and corralled the interception. Despite Norman drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a bow-and-arrow celebration following the forced turnover, Washington started the drive on Cleveland’s side of midfield.
“Obviously, it was the turnovers, and as I talked to our team, I think that is the key to our season,” Jackson said. “We can’t turn the ball over. We don’t turn it over, and you’ve got a chance to win in all these games. That’s just the way pro football is. I’ve got to do a better job. I take responsibility for it all.”