This time they didn’t even boo him that much.
They just got up and left.
Stunned, numbed, gutted — you pick the word — but one thing was clear Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Cleveland fans had seen enough.
The Browns hadn’t just blown a 10-point halftime lead and ended a three-game winning streak with their 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions, they had been turned into a punch line again thanks to the play of their quarterback.
Brandon Weeden never had handled the job with much swagger or success, which is why fans had booed him so unmercifully a week ago against Buffalo when he relieved Brian Hoyer, who had suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Although the Bills had sacked him five times, he kept himself upright enough to help Cleveland win.
But Sunday is a day that will go down in the Browns’ lore of losing thanks to one “bone-headed” play. And by the way, that word “bone-headed” is Weeden’s. That’s how he described his critical moment of panic in the fourth quarter that led to a game sealing interception, his second of the day.
But the word doesn’t fully explain what was truly exposed in that moment.
Bone-headed has a playfulness to it.
Garo Yepremian’s interception in Super Bowl VII was bone-headed, but he at least had an excuse. He was the Miami Dolphins’ tiny Armenian kicker. He had been raised in Cypress. Although he could kick the ball, he did know much else about the game. That’s why early in his career when he was a Detroit Lion. he ran off the field celebrating a point-after, gushing “I keek a touchdown!”
In Super Bowl VII, Miami led Washington, 14-0, when Garo’s field goal attempt was blocked with about two minutes left. He picked the ball up and tried to pass.
Instead the ball fluttered straight up above him. He then batted it as if he was playing volleyball and Washington picked it off and ran it back for a score. That’s how the game ended, 14-7.
Weeden, though, is supposed to be a starting quarterback. That’s what he was before Hoyer took over for him and what he was supposed to be again Sunday.
I get the feeling, though, he won’t be for long. This game likely sealed his fate. It might not come next game or even next month — the Browns only have Jason Campbell as a back up — but it’s becoming more and more obvious Weeden looks like little more than an NFL back-up.
With just over 4 ½ minutes left Sunday and Detroit leading 24-17, the Browns had a first down on the Lions’ 44-yard line. That’s when Weeden found himself under pressure, scrambled to his left and as he felt a defender at his ankle, he tried to flip the ball toward the sideline where his running back, Chris Ogbonnaya, was shadowed by two Lions.
That kind of toss might have worked if he were throwing dice on a craps table, but on a football field it was anemic and ill-conceived and fatal.
As the ball descended it looked like a leaf drifting from a fall tree. Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy made the easy interception as the stadium fell into disbelief. A few plays later, Detroit scored again and the reeling crowd headed for the exits. By game’s end, the stadium was mostly empty except for fans wearing Lions blue.
In the losing dressing room afterward , you have to give Browns veteran running back Willis McGahee credit. At least he answered the question that the rest of his teammates and head coach Rob Chudzinski mostly dodged.
Asked what he thought of the Weeden interception, he shrugged: “I have no answer for it. You have to ask him what he was thinking.”
To be fair, he followed that up with saying, “We’re all in this together, you just can’t blame it on one person.” But his first thought was telling.
Afterward, Weeden tried to explain his thought process: “I was trying to flip it over Ogbonnaya’s head. I couldn’t really turn to actually throw it. I didn’t want to hurt the team by taking an 8- to 10-yard sack so, I just tried to flip it as hard as I could…. It’s almost better to take the sack there and move on to the next play.
“Like Norv (offensive coordinator Norv Turner) said: ‘Take the sack. Anytime you try that underhanded stuff, bad things happen.’
“It’s on me.”
While everyone is focusing on the inept flip, what happened on the very next series was even more telling. The Browns had the ball one last time and again Weeden was under pressure. As he was being sacked , he tried another flip forward. It was ruled a fumble and luckily one of his teammates recovered it.
But once again the same panic move.
In the second half Sunday, it appeared the Lions’ aggressive defensive front — led by the stomping, groin kicking Ndamukong Suh, voted the NFL’s dirtiest player — got into Weeden’s head as much as it got into the Browns’ backfield.
Before his two late-game blunders, consider what happened to Weeden in the three previous possessions: He was flung to the ground by Suh, sacked by Willie Young and then shoved to the ground by Nick Fairley after he launched a pass to the sidelines and was penalized for intentional grounding.
Certainly there were other reasons the Browns lost. They abandon the run in the second half, had several costly penalties and their defense wasn’t as intimidating as usual.
But the difference in quarterback play was alarming. The Lions’ Matthew Stafford led his team to a rousing comeback victory on the road.
Weeden showed no leadership in the second half.
He’s lost the fans and you get the sense he may be losing the locker room, too, though guys gave him a lukewarm vote of confidence.
Afterward Weeden was asked what he meant by “it’s on me.”
Was he talking about the interception or the loss?
“The interception,” he said.
Soon after, he picked up the little gray backpack he wears, strapped it over his shoulders and padded to the door in his white canvas deck shoes that match his white plastic watch band.
He didn’t bother to look down at his watch. He, too, must sense his time is about up.