ATLANTA — The vibes weren't great from the start, and that proved to hold true in the end.
The Browns suffered a potentially crushing 23-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, dropping a game many had circled as a win in the preseason. Cleveland blew a fourth quarter lead as both the offense and defense fell flat late, with Younghoe Koo's 45-yard field goal and Jacoby Brissett's last-drive interception providing the difference.
The week was largely dominated by the car crash involving Myles Garrett, and while both he and his passenger came away with relatively minor injuries, the star defensive end was unable to give it a go Sunday. Jadeveon Clowney and Taven Bryan were also out, and the Browns' front seven saw itself gashed after the Falcons made some adjustments to their running game.
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For Cleveland, Nick Chubb was brilliant, as always, running for 118 yards and a touchdown. Jacoby Brissett had his moments (including a four-yard scoring run), but an uninspiring second half put his final stats at 21-of-35 with 234 yards and a pick. Amari Cooper was held to just one catch for nine yards, and despite having five grabs of his own David Njoku committed a costly fumble that led to an Atlanta TD.
Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota struggled, completing just 36.8% of his passes for 139 yards and an INT. Once the Birds' coaching staff noticed the passing attack wasn't working, the leaned heavily on the run, with Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley combining for 140 yards and a touchdown with Cordarrelle Patterson somewhat limited.
Now 2-2, and still somehow tied for first in the AFC North, the Browns will host the Los Angeles Chargers next Sunday. In the meantime, the "Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show" has your instant reaction to today's matchup:
Also, here are some game-ending observations from 3News' Tyler Carey:
1. Defense fails again
There is plenty of blame to go around, but once again, the Browns' defense tops the list.
The unit did recover after a slow start, pressuring Atlanta quarterback Marcus Mariota and causing several wayward throws. So, the Falcons adjusted, going almost exclusively to the running game. Even with Cordarrelle Patterson limited, Cleveland was helpless to stop it, allowing 202 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
And what would a Browns defensive collapse be without a little "miscommunication"? On what turned out to be the game-winning drive, Mariota found a wide-open Olamide Zaccheaus for a 42-yard gain thanks to another busted coverage. Both Denzel Ward and John Johnson III had been in the area, and for good measure, a face mask penalty on the latter put the Falcons in field goal range.
I get Myles Garrett and other members of the front four were out, but there are no excuses for that effort.
2. Red zone woes
Twice in the first half, the Browns cost themselves by overthinking things down by the goal line. Rather than kick a field goal on the opening drive of the game, Kevin Stefanski decided to go for it from the 4-yard line, and Jacoby Brissett puzzlingly threw it out of the end zone.
Later, Cleveland did settle for three, but only after a holding penalty on second-and-goal from the 1 pushed them back. Had they stuck with their elite running attack, a touchdown seemed likely, but they instead tried to pass.
Missed opportunities like these can cost teams. Who knows what would've been with some better decision making?
3. Brissett looks average
Jacoby Brissett had a strong first half, but proved in the second why he has been a stopgap QB for most of his career. It certainly wasn't his worst game, but he was mostly a non-factor down the stretch, and this was the second time in three weeks he has thrown an interception on a potential game-winning drive.
As a whole, the Browns' offense really never got it going, only gaining any sense of momentum when they fed Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the fourth quarter.
4. Let's talk about the coaching
We can't forget that Kevin Stefanski remains in charge of the offensive play-calling. Many are going to point to his choice to (again) pass up a field goal before failing to convert on fourth down, as well as his unwillingness to use Chubb and Hunt from the 1.
And then there's Joe Woods, who has had to endure the wrath of fans' criticism seemingly from his hiring. It hasn't always been fair, but these first four games will not be the highlight of his resume, and today the lack of adjustments to the Falcons' game plan along with another late cross-up in the secondary are again looming large.
Accountability starts at the top, and the coaching staff bears a great deal of responsibility for this latest defeat. I'm sure Stefanski and Woods know that, but at some point, the results need to change.