The loss, as always, came down to a series of mistakes. From a 4th-and-1 in which Browns head coach Pat Shurmur elected to punt—saying that he did so because they had two timeouts and six minutes remaining, enough to potentially win the game—but then turning around and going for it on a 4th-and-6 and failing, to a dropped Josh Gordon touchdown and a number of errors in between, the Browns shot themselves in the foot yet again.
In the first half, Cleveland's defense seemingly allowed Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to pass at will, giving up 137 yards in the air. In fact, they let Luck do whatever he wanted—both Colts first-half touchdowns came on short runs by the quarterback. In contrast, they allowed just 60 rushing yards.
That script flipped in the second half. The Browns effectively shut down the Colts' ability to pass the ball, allowing Luck just 49 more yards, but gave up 88 additional to the run. Granted, this resulted in just three second-half points for the Colts, but the Browns' inability to get their defense off the field hindered their offensive efforts.
Yet again, rookie Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden had a solid showing. He went 24-of-40 for 247 yards and two touchdowns, didn't turn the ball over and wasn't sacked once. His offensive line held up in the face of pressure, and he made few poor throws. But the run game, which was meant to be their ticket to victory, was the most underwhelming we've seen all season.
The Browns put up just 55 total rushing yards, including eight runs for eight yards by Trent Richardson, who was pulled from the game not because of his lingering rib injury but for what Shurmur deemed ineffectiveness. In fact, Shurmur said that the Browns couldn't have possibly run the ball well, saying the Colts defense shut off the opportunity—an interesting development for what was, coming into this game, one of the very worst run defenses in the NFL.
That inability to run wouldn't have mattered, in the larger scope of things, if the Browns had come away with a win. An ill-timed go-ahead touchdown drop by Josh Gordon on a 3rd-and-1 would have ultimately sealed a victory for Cleveland, and that's the play that will get the most focus in the coming days.
However, it was more than the drop that led to the loss. Gordon was otherwise solid despite clearly being the focus of the Colts secondary's attention. He had just two catches on 10 targets, but one was a 33-yard touchdown reception.
Fellow rookie Josh Cooper, activated from the practice squad last week, caught four of eight passes for 49 yards. And, in a surprising turn of events, drops-prone receiver Greg Little pulled down six of the seven passes thrown his way, for 46 yards and a stunning second-quarter touchdown.
The main issues were the Browns' inability to get their defense off the field early in the game (both the Browns and the Colts each had just one first-quarter drive), the two auspiciously poor fourth-down calls by Shurmur, the penalties on nearly every punt and kick return and that dropped touchdown.
No one player or person can be fully to blame for this particular loss (regardless of what Gordon himself said after the game)—it was just yet again an example of how the Browns have to learn how to finish and win games this season, especially on the road.
The only difference this time is that the Browns are under new ownership, with a new CEO also on board helping make important decisions. With practically everyone on the coaching staff playing for their jobs over the remainder of the season, they need to get every phase of the game in order, or else Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner will be asking for a meeting sooner than January.