Browns All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio was drafted in 2014 so he has survived some of the most miserable losses in franchise history, including a 1-31 piece.
But he still called the stunning collapse of Sunday’s 31-30 defeat to the New York Jets in the home opener at FirstEnergy Stadium one of the most disappointing defeats of his career.
“It’s up there. We’ve had some frustrating ones,” Bitonio said on Zoom on Monday. “It was one of the rarest ways to lose, so it’s definitely up there.”
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The Browns led 30-17 with 1:55 left, allowing Jets quarterback Joe Flacco to throw two touchdown passes in the final 1:22. NFL teams had won the past 2,229 consecutive games by at least 13 points in the last two minutes, dating back to the Browns’ loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 9 of the 2001 season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The game was full of moments of hesitation. Here’s what Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and his players had to say about them.
Why didn’t Browns coach Kevin Stefanski tell Nick Chubb not to score?
Three-time Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb scored on a 12-yard touchdown run 1:55 to play for the 13-point lead, and rookie kicker Cade York missed the extra point. But the latter shouldn’t matter. The Jets had no more timeouts. If Chubb had picked up the first down but failed to score, the Browns could have kneed three times to kill the clock.
Before the Jets 12’s first-and-ten game, Stefanski said he should have told quarterback Jacoby Brissett to focus on the offense to take down the first, not the touchdown. Stefanski also had the chance on the sidelines to tell Chubb himself, with Kareem Hunt the running back on the previous game. In a 2020 win over the Houston Texans, Chubb did just that, heeding Stefanski’s “no mas” command to maintain a 10-7 triumph.
When asked if he had told Brissett in the headset not to score, Stefanski said on Monday: “No, I didn’t. I want to be clear about this. In that situation I could absolutely have told him.
“Obviously you want to do everything afterwards to secure the win. That is something that is my responsibility to communicate with that group. If you potentially hit 14 points in two minutes, you should close that game. Yes, I wish I had said that to Nick and Nick would have, but it doesn’t change the fact that we had plenty of chances to win that game.”
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While Chubb performed the “no mas” correctly in 2020, Bitonio didn’t blame Chubb for scoring.
“I think the touchdown is a tough question,” Bitonio said. “We’re trying to get a first deficit at the 2. You get tackled, you make a move to try to get a touchdown to go up two scores. Obviously if we find a way to kneel or get down there, we can win the game by kneeling it down.
“But it wasn’t like a 100m break where he can easily take a knee and win the game. I’m sure we’ll discuss it and learn from it, so next time we’re in that situation, we’ll try to keep inbounds a little bit better. But that’s tough, hard play, bang-bang play where you’re not going to blame anyone for those situations. ”
Why perform a Kareem Hunt sweep to the left sideline against Jets?
The Jets used their last timeout with 2:09 to go. The next game, on second and 6 of the Jets 24, Hunt swept to the left sideline and won 12 yards before being pushed out of bounds with 2:02 to go. Had he gone within the bounds after getting the first down, the Browns could have used three knee-downs after the two-minute warning to clear the clock.
Why didn’t the Browns run to the center of the field to try and kill more time off the clock and avoid going out of bounds?
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“The piece was a counterplay to the outside,” said Bitonio. “They stack the box on top of each other and have a jam front with cover on the inside, so it’s kinda hard to run in.”
Why didn’t Amari Cooper hit the onside kick outside the lines?
After miscommunications on the defense led to Flacco’s 66-yard touchdown pass to receiver Corey Davis and Greg Zuerlein’s PAT narrowing the deficit to 30-24, the Jets executed an onside kick perfectly. It was punter Braden Mann who made the shoe and cornerback Justin Hardee recovered with the Jets 47.
It took the Jets just a minute to score again on Flacco’s 15-yard toss to receiver Garrett Wilson.
On the onside kick, Browns receiver Amari Cooper was in position to knock the ball out of bounds, but waited for it to get to him instead of attacking and catching.
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“We just have to find a way to make a game in those situations, find a way to get the ball out of bounds on a kick and things like that,” Stefanski said. “We just have to continue to put our guys in position to do their job … and then let our players come through in those moments.”
Brown’s free safety John Johnson III was just over the ball on the onside kick team and wanted to see the replay. But he expressed his frustration about that failure after the match.
“There is a tool, you can hit the ball out of bounds if you need to. I think we probably should have used that tool,” Johnson said on Sunday.
Why was Brown’s quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s last pass so deep?
The Browns got the ball back on their own 25 with 22 seconds left and Brissett, playing on an injured ankle, clambered 21 yards to the Cleveland 46 with 12 seconds left.
After York kicked a game-winning 58-yard field goal on Sept. 11 in the season-opening 26-24 in Carolina on Sept. 11, Stefanski said hitting the 40 was his mentality with York’s big leg.
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But York’s missed extra point, which came in the whirlwind of Dawg Pound’s end, played a part. Brissett’s next throw, intended for Cooper, was intercepted by Ashtyn Davis on the Jets 36.
When asked if they went too deep, Stefanski replied: “No, I don’t think so. It was in the Dawg Pound. I don’t think it’s safe to always go to 40 with your kicker. I think we’re trying to get as close to a shorter field goal as possible.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Brown’s Second Guess in Loss to New York Jets