Another Cleveland Browns season has begun, complete with new pieces on both sides of the ball. With new faces at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, and sprinkled across the defensive line, the Browns were entering the 2012 season as the youngest team in the league, but one with some promise.
Offensive ineptitude ruled the day, with rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden leading the way. In his first professional start, he completed 12 of 35 passes for 118 yards and four interceptions.
As far as debuts go, this was one to forget. Weeden often looked lost, staring down receivers and showcasing what appears to be a growing problem of being unable to hold onto the ball when hit. His 5.1 passer rating was the seventh-lowest for a quarterback making his first start with at least 15 passes since 1970.
In other words, there is nowhere to go but up for Weeden.
Running back Trent Richardson was also making his first NFL start on Sunday, returning to action after missing the entire preseason due to arthroscopic surgery on his knee. Naturally, he was rusty, rushing 19 times for 39 yards. As for the limited action Richardson was supposed to get, that certainly didn’t happen – no other running back even got a carry for the Browns.
But if there was a silver lining to this game, it would be the defense. Sure, it gave up 456 yards of offense to the Eagles (with running back LeSean McCoy naturally gaining over 100 yards), but it was also on the field nearly 36 minutes.
Perhaps most impressive were the four interceptions the defense had on Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. After a shaky start, the Browns largely kept Vick in check, getting great pressure on him while also making sure to stay in their lanes and not overpursue.
Despite the problems of the offense, the Browns gained a 15-10 lead late in the game following a D’Qwell Jackson interception return for a touchdown. The problem was, head coach Pat Shurmur did not go for the two-point conversion to potentially put the score at 17-10.
Even if the attempt was unsuccessful, the Browns had nothing to lose in the fourth quarter of this game. No one expected them to be in it and the offense was struggling tremendously. They needed to exhaust every opportunity for a win and Shurmur failed to do so. The entire game can’t be pinned on him, but that non-move came back to haunt the Browns.
The Browns have now lost 13 of 14 season openers since returning to the NFL in 1999. Losing the regular season opener has become something of an unwanted tradition, and the team continues to find new and bizarre ways to do so.
There is real promise with this team, though. Weeden and Richardson will get better. Young players like linebackers L.J. Fort and Craig Robertson give a young defense hope.
A win would have energized this young team, despite its mistakes. Instead, everyone in Cleveland is wondering when the Browns will stop being “the same old Browns.”