CLEVELAND — If the Haslams were worried firing Freddie Kitchens after one season might make them look unreasonably trigger happy (again), Sunday is all the out they need.
In fact, they can now point to the great and noble restraint they showed in not firing their coach at halftime.
The end of the first half against the Ravens was the worst game management of this Browns season, and there is a runway full of beauties vying for that honor.
They call the Kentucky Derby is the most exciting two minutes in sports. Here were the most telling two minutes of Kitchens tenure:
He showed there is no third-and-short situation he can’t overthink, this time by calling a Kareem Hunt halfback pass on third-and-one.
"Yeah, trying to take a shot and go for it on fourth down if we did not get it, but it did not happen," said Kitchens, who then said he probably shouldn’t have called an option pass there. "Trick play…if we couldn’t have gotten it we would have been alright.
"You try to create some momentum. If it does not happen, you come back and get it on 4th-and-1, and we just lost some yardage."
Just in case you believe he might’ve misspoke, Kitchens was asked again about the claim he would go for it on fourth down in case of an incompletion.
"Definitely,” he said. “4th-and-1…definitely.”
Not only don’t you worry about momentum there, leading 6-0, you don’t even think about going for it on fourth down when the ball is on your own 28.
But that was Kitchens story. And like so many other of his befuddling explanations this season, he was sticking to this one, too.
I know some of you are just happy it wasn’t a shovel pass.
After the Ravens swallowed Hunt for a eight-yard loss, the Browns punted from their 20. Baltimore scored two plays and 32 seconds later.
Okay, that can happen. The Ravens have been doing it all year, in fact.
Down 7-6, Kitchens ran out the clock from there because Baltimore had no timeouts.
He did not.
Three shotgun snaps from the Browns 25. Three incompletions. Almost as many seconds expired in Jamie Gillan hang time as they did on the pass plays.
"Our goal as an offense is to score points," said Baker Mayfield in defense of those play calls.
More to the point, the job of the offense is to play smarter and more efficiently than the defense, or at times to take great pains to keep the other more prolific offense off the field.
Not the Browns.
Only 23 seconds elapsed after those three incompletions, giving the Ravens the ball again with 55 seconds to go.
Baltimore scored in six plays this time. Kitchens doesn’t play defense, of course, but unnecessarily giving Lamar Jackson another chance and nearly a minute to do his thing is leading with your chin against the young Mike Tyson when clinching makes so much more sense.
Baltimore scored again, and now had a 14-6 lead.
Inside two minutes, the Ravens scored on drives of 63 and 75 yards, respectively. The Browns gave them that momentum.
When the Ravens got the ball to start the second half and scored again on a 13-play, 69-yard drive, the game was over—as was the last decent continuity argument for keeping the head coach.
Twice now in the last two weeks, everything the Browns needed to happen around the league to keep their playoffs alive happened. Sunday, it was losses by the Steelers and Titans and a win by the Colts.
The Browns couldn’t handle their own business against a three-win Arizona team and a Baltimore team suddenly turned sloppy.
Remember the NFL Network report from a few weeks ago that suggested the Browns were leaning toward bringing Kitchens back unless the final three games brought a "horrific collapse"?
The loss to Arizona fit the description. So did the final minutes of the first half Sunday.
And now a trip to one-win Cincinnati is all that’s left.
I know what you’re thinking (sarcastically): What could go wrong?
At this point in what should be the final days of Kitchens' tenure, it seems pretty clear that not enough has gone right to save him.