Browns collapse with missed kicks, as Saints lucky to win

September 17, 2018

The Cleveland Browns are an exercise in punished exuberance. That’s all you can say at this point.

The Browns led the New Orleans Saints by two scores early in the fourth quarter but fell apart with one of the worst kicking performances in recent memory by Zane Gonzalez, who botched two extra-point attempts and two field-goal tries in a gutting loss.

The Saints frankly were lucky to win, 21-18, in a thriller. Yes, Gonzalez is the easy goat. But Browns head coach Hue Jackson, whose record in Cleveland dropped to 1-32-1 over his two-plus seasons, is not at all above reproach.

This Browns team has been must-see TV through two games, piggy-backing off of the most entertaining “Hard Knocks” in recent memory. They’re actually fun to watch, people! There’s clearly a growing sentiment for this young and talented but completely star-crossed franchise to put something of a hopeful product out there. In time they really — no, really — might be very good.

But probably not with Jackson at the helm, in time; these collapses are not all black cats and walking under ladders. Something clearly has to change. Josh Gordon is likely gone by Monday afternoon, and Gonzalez could be right behind him. But is that enough? Likely not.

This game was a tragic extension for the Browns, who entered the game cloaked in the latest chapter of the Gordon saga but had every chance to win this road game against a shaky Saints club. Credit the Browns’ defense, which held New Orleans to 275 yards of offense at the Superdome, and QB Tyrod Taylor, who played a pretty solid game even without Gordon’s services.

After surrendering the lead to the Saints after two Michael Thomas touchdowns, Taylor fought back to hit Antonio Callaway on a 47-yard TD pass with 1:24 remaining. That tied the game at 18-18, but the Browns should already have been leading at this point, with Gonzalez missing his first extra-point try back in the third quarter, as well as a field-goal try earlier in the fourth.

But Gonzalez pushed his second extra-point miss of the game left, and the Saints got the ball back in great shape. You just knew the Browns’ brutal mistakes were going to burn them, and it came true. Drew Brees hit Ted Ginn on passes of 8 and 42 yards, and Saints kicker Wil Lutz’s field goal gave New Orleans a 21-18 lead with 21 seconds left.

Amazingly, Taylor had the Browns in field-goal range after quick completions of 26 and 16 yards. But Gonzalez’s 52-yard try was wide right. Why Jackson chose to kick on first down with eight seconds on the clock is anyone’s guess. It’s these types of attention-to-detail mistakes that have cost him and his team time and time again since the start of the 2016 season.

The Browns fell to 0-1-1 this season after failing to beat the Steelers last week in overtime, despite Pittsburgh giving them chance after chance to do so. Sunday’s loss in New Orleans came with the all-too-familiar Browns disappointment. Except this one ended in a loss.

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