Cleveland managed to make history, twice, against Baltimore on Monday night and David R. McCullough celebrates the achievement by recapping the Browns final drive, which is sure to live in infamy.
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Taking possession at their own 38-yard line after Andy Lee’s punt, the Baltimore Ravens line up with 11 personnel, with trips formation to the left and tight end Crockett Gilmore (#80) alone on the right. Backup quarterback Matt Schaub (#8) stands in the shotgun with running back Javorius Allen (#37) to his right. Cleveland has their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, and they show zone coverage in the secondary before the play. But prior to the snap, wide receiver Kamar Aiken (#11) comes in motion out of the trips to the right, and as the play begins the Browns roll into a Cover 3 matching concept with the linebacker covering the RB in the flat:
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The best thing that can be said about Matt Schaub’s throw is that it didn’t result in a touchdown, as his throw in the 3rd quarter did. Both Gilmore and AIken run skinny posts on the right, and cornerback Tramon Williams (#22) cuts underneath the wide receiver beautifully and intercepts the throw. Aiken tackles the DB almost immediately, giving the Browns possession at the Baltimore 46.
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Now with possession of the football and needing around 15 yards to get into field goal range for Travis Coons, the offense lines up with second string quarterback Austin Davis ‒ booed by the home crowd when he came on in relief of injured Josh McCown in the 3rd quarter ‒ in the game. The QB lines up in shotgun with 11 personnel, receiver Travis Benjamin split wide to the left, and a trips formation to the right, with Brian Hartline (#83) on the inside, tight end Gary Barnidge (#82) in the middle and WR Marlon Moore (#15) split wide. The Ravens deploy ta 4-2-5 nickel and use Cover 1.
The QB quickly finds receiver Hartline on the slant route, which results in a 6 yard gain.
Even though Cleveland has two timeouts remaining, they forego stopping the clock and head immediately to the line of scrimmage again with trips to the right, only with the TE and Hartline switching alignments.
However, Davis spends so much time before the snap adjusting the protection that only 0:18 seconds remain when the ball is snapped. Barnidge runs a curl from the inside while the two WRs run slant routes. The QB surveys the field and sees these routes covered, but spots open grass toward the sideline. Since all three routes cut to the inside, this opens up an alley toward the sideline. The QB pulls the ball down and takes off for the first-down marker. He sprints to the boundary, picking up needed yards and then ‒ with no one around ‒ he slides:
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Davis has room to get out of bounds, diving if necessary. But instead he slides, in bounds, as time drains off the clock. By the time the Browns call timeout 0:41 precious seconds have disappeared.
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The Browns line up with 11 personnel with Davis under center, looking to do… something.
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The great Mike Tanier sums it up:
DID THEY JUST RUN A PLAY TO MOVE THE BALL FROM THE RIGHT HASHMARK TO THE RIGHT HASHMARK???
— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) December 1, 2015
Indeed they did, Mike. Indeed they did. The Browns ran the ball straight ahead for no gain. They made no effort to position the ball for their kicker, Travis Coons, who prefers his distance kicks centered. They made no effort to get closer. They ran right, on the right hashmark, for no reason other than to burn some more seconds off the clock, ensuring Coons kick is the last act in regulation.
Lest you wonder if this was a poor decision by the rookie running back, Duke Johnson (#29), consider that the play tasked rookie guard Cameron Erving (#74) with pulling in front of the RB. As Erving leads into the hole, both linebacker C.J. Mosley (#57) and safety Will Hill (#33) attack the gap. The rookie LG blocks the safety, leaving Johnson to fend for himself against the LB. The rookie loses.
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The entire sequence has been called the “Browns-iest thing ever” by more twitter comedians than can be cited. But a few choice reactions:
Just when I though nothing could be dumber than Davis' slide… https://t.co/GNLddKuZM9
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) December 1, 2015
I'm still trying to process the QB slide. I'm about 10 mins away from trying to figure out the blocked kick.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 1, 2015
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, you have to be freaking kidding me.
— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) December 1, 2015
According to Chris Lillestrung at The News-Herald, Davis said: “But to lose that way, you always think, ‘What could I have done differently, or better, to put us in a better situation?’”
Well, you could have kept running and gone out of bounds, getting several more yards and saving several seconds. Though given the inexplicable run play that didn’t help the kicker, it is debatable whether several more seconds would have helped John DeFilippo.
In the end, the Browns managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of either victory (or overtime), which is a remarkable accomplishment. Cleveland continues to achieve great things in football history – first team to lose on a blocked kick returned for a touchdown to a division rival with no time remaining on the clock after the worst game winning drive attempt, ever.
David R. McCullough is the Editor-in-Chief of Inside the Pylon. He also writes about the topics shaping the sport, examines the coaches and players, ruminates on football’s past, and explores the controversial issues facing the game.
All video courtesy of NFL Game Pass.