One thing about the Cleveland Browns – since they’ve returned in 1999, they’ve found more inventive and heart-breaking ways to lose games than any other NFL team.
Last Sunday’s last-second 30-27 loss by the Browns to the San Diego Chargers was the latest in a long line of “Only In Cleveland” improbable losses.
After the Browns tied the game with 2:09 remaining on a Josh McCown touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge and subsequent two-point conversion pass from McCown to Taylor Gabriel, the Chargers – missing three starting offensive linemen and with just two healthy wide receivers – drove down to the Browns 21 in eight plays, going 57 yards. Rookie kicker Josh Lambo lined up for a game-winning 39-yard field goal attempt with two seconds left and kicked it wide right. However, the Browns’ Tramon Williams jumped offside, giving Lambo and the Chargers one last chance five yards closer.
This time, and with no time on the clock, Lambo delivered from 34 yards out, giving San Diego an improbable win that dropped the Browns to 1-3.
Andrew Clayman from the site Waiting For Next Year compiled a list of all 41 instances in which the Browns had defeat snatched from the jaws of victory in the final minute since the franchise returned in 1999. Whatever you do, avoid being around sharp objects or listening to songs from The Cure while reading this article (http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/2015/09/heres-every-last-minute-browns-loss-since-1999) because chances are good you may feel suicidal when you are done.
What I’ve decided to do is take that list of 41 and whittle it down to the 10 most memorable (or most heartbreaking) of those last-second losses. The more unique the circumstance, the better chance it got on the list. I did not include the Browns’ 36-33 loss in the 2002 playoffs to the Pittsburgh Steelers because I wanted to limit it to regular season games (and, also, because that game is still a sore subject).
Because it’s so new, I did not include Sunday’s loss in this list. Instead, and because I feel like torturing myself and you, I found 10 others. Enjoy.
10. Dec. 2, 2007: Cardinals 27, Browns 21 – Nowadays, there is no such thing as a force out – defenders can shove a receiver out of bounds on a catch and, as long as his feet don’t touch inbounds, it’s considered an incomplete pass. But back in 2007, defenders weren’t allowed to do this maneuver. This came into question on the last play of this late-season game in Glendale. Derek Anderson, who threw for 304 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, took over at his own 18 with 1:48 remaining and began to put together a nice drive. The Browns drove to the Arizona 37 with 22 seconds left, but Anderson threw three straight incomplete passes. On fourth-and-10 with six seconds left, Anderson found tight end Kellen Winslow in the left corner of the end zone, but Winslow was shoved out of bounds before he could get his feet in. The play was not overturned by a replay review, and, in a season in which the Browns just missed the playoffs despite a 10-6 record, this loss loomed large.
9. Nov. 14, 2010: Jets 26, Browns 20 (OT) – The Browns were surging under rookie quarterback Colt McCoy after he engineered two shocking upsets over the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots. Playing with confidence in a charged up stadium that booed the returning Braylon Edwards every time a pass was thrown his way, the Browns forced overtime when McCoy found Mohamed Massaquoi for a 3-yard touchdown with 44 seconds remaining. In overtime, a Chansi Stuckey fumble at the Jets 30 after a long completion prevented the Browns from attempting a potential game-winning field goal. And, an interception by rookie Joe Haden at the 3 with 1:35 left appeared to seal a tie game. But, in typical Browns fashion, they wound up punting the ball back to the Jets, who took over at their own 37 with no timeouts and 24 seconds left. On the first play, Sanchez found Ohio State product Santonio Holmes, who broke an Eric Wright tackle and ran into the end zone for a walkoff touchdown. The Browns wound up going 5-11 and Mangini was fired.
8. Sept. 23, 2007: Raiders 26, Browns 24 – Another narrow loss in the 2007 season that loomed large because the Browns came up an eyelash short of a playoff berth. The Raiders, quarterbacked by Josh McCown – yes, THAT Josh McCown – jumped out to a 16-0 first half lead before Anderson and the Browns came battling back. A 21-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards in the third quarter gave the Browns a 17-16 lead, and a 1-yard sneak from Anderson with 3:33 left cut the deficit to 26-24. Getting the ball back at their own 9 with no timeouts and 1:04 left, Anderson drove the Browns into field goal range on a 13-yard completion to Joe Jurevicius with 3 seconds left. As Phil Dawson kicked a 40-yard game-winning field goal, rookie head coach Lane Kiffin called timeout just before the ball was snapped. Having to re-do it, Dawson’s second attempt was blocked by Oakland’s Tommy Kelly.
7. Sept. 29, 2002: Steelers 16, Browns 13 (OT) – The Browns went 0-3 against the Steelers in this playoff season, with all three losses coming by three points apiece. Other than the playoff defeat, this one was probably the most bizarre. At Heinz Field, Tommy Maddux relieved an ineffective Kordell Stewart in the fourth quarter and found Plaxico Burress for a game-tying 10-yard touchdown pass with 2:05 remaining to send the game into overtime. After Andra Davis intercepted Maddux on the first play of overtime at the Steelers 34, Dawson missed a game-winning 45-yard field goal. Given new life, Maddux and the Steelers drove inside the Browns’ 10-yard line. Pittsburgh elected to try to kick a game-winning 24-yard field goal on second down – remember that, folks. However, Todd Peterson’s kick was blocked by Alvin McKinley. Peterson recovered the kick, and his fumble was pounced on by Steelers lineman John Fiala. Because the kick did not cross the line of scrimmage, and because the kick didn’t occur on fourth down, the Steelers got another chance. This time, Peterson kicked a 31-yard field goal to give the bad guys the win.
6. Oct. 10, 1999: Bengals 18, Browns 17 – In the 1999 NFL Draft, the two quarterbacks the Browns were torn over for the first pick were Tim Couch out of Kentucky and Akili Smith out of Oregon. Both QBs were photographed together wearing Browns jerseys with John “Big Dawg” Thompson for the cover of Sports Illustrated. Couch wound up being the pick and Smith wound up being taken third-overall by the rival Cincinnati Bengals. Both quarterbacks didn’t amount to much in the NFL, but Smith’s career was more miserable than Couch’s. However, for one afternoon at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Smith showed up Couch and the Browns’ braintrust who passed on him. On a day when rookie kicker Dawson scored the first – and only – rushing touchdown of his career, and the first rushing touchdown of the season for the Browns, the young hosts clung to a 17-12 lead late in the game. Smith took over at his own 20 with two timeouts and 2:04 remaining and drove his team down to the Browns’ 2 thanks to a 9-yard pass to Darnay Scott on fourth down and a pass interference penalty on Corey Fuller at the 2. On third down and with nine seconds on the clock, Smith found Carl Pickens on a fade route to rob the expansion Browns of their first win of the season. Smith only finished with five TD passes in his career and only won three games in four years, adding insult in injury.
5. Dec. 8, 2013: Patriots 27, Browns 26 – The Browns really had no business being in this game. But, thanks to receiver Josh Gordon’s 151 receiving yards and quarterback Jason Campbell – who wasn’t cleared to start until two days prior to kickoff – and his 391 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, Cleveland led throughout and took a 26-14 lead with 2:39 left on a four-yard pass from Campbell to tight end Jordan Cameron. At that point, the Patriots’ win probability was 0.1 percent. But that doesn’t factor in the team they were playing. Tom Brady threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman with 1:01 remaining to cut the deficit to 26-21. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Jordan Poyer on the touchdown allowed the Patriots to kickoff 15 yards closer than normal. Then, Fozzy Whitaker fumbled the ensuing onside kick, which was recovered by kicker Stephen Gostkowski at the Cleveland 30. A pass interference penalty on rookie Leon McFadden in the end zone put the ball on the 1, where Brady found Danny Amendola for what turned out to be the improbable game-winning touchdown with 31 seconds remaining. Amazingly, the Browns had a chance to win on the last play of the game. But Billy Cundiff’s 58-yard field goal fell just short.
4. Nov. 4, 2001: Bears 27, Browns 21 (OT) – After winning just five games in the two previous years, the Browns were 4-2 under first-year coach Butch Davis heading into this showdown at Soldier Field. And, a 25-yard fumble recovery by former No. 1 overall pick Courtney Brown just 55 seconds into the game gave the Browns an early 7-0 lead. A 55-yard touchdown pass from Couch to Kevin Johnson late in the third quarter gave the Browns a 21-7 lead, and, with less than a minute remaining, that lead appeared to be safe. But that’s when things got really weird. Bears quarterback Shane Matthews, the regular backup, found Marty Booker on a 9-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left to cut the deficit to 21-14. Then, Chicago recovered an onside kick at the Browns 47. After two short completions, Matthews flung a Hail Mary pass that was tipped in the air and caught in the back of the end zone by running back James Allen for a stunning 34-yard touchdown with no time remaining. Then, before anyone realized what was truly happening, the game was over. After the Browns stopped the Bears in overtime, a Couch pass on their third offensive play was batted at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by safety Mike Brown, who returned the gift 23 yards for a game-winning touchdown.
3. Nov. 22, 2009: Lions 38, Browns 37 – Former first-round pick Brady Quinn had, by far, his best game as a pro on this afternoon at Ford Field, throwing for 304 yards with four touchdowns. It was a shootout with rookie top-overall pick Matthew Stafford, who wound up throwing for 422 yards and five touchdowns. The Browns blew a 24-3 first-quarter lead, but a two-yard touchdown pass to backup tight end Michael Gaines – and a two-point conversion from Jamal Lewis – gave Cleveland a 37-31 lead with five minutes remaining. A Brodney Pool interception in the end zone with 3:40 remaining appeared to be enough to get the Browns just their second win of the season, and, when Detroit got the ball back, it had to drive 88 yards in 1:46 without any timeouts. With eight seconds left and the ball on the Cleveland 32, Stafford threw a Hail Mary into the end zone that was picked off by Pool with no time on the clock. However, officials flagged Hank Poteat for pass interference – officials rarely flag defenders for interference on a jump ball, but they did on this day. Because coach Eric Mangini called a timeout, Stafford – who separated his shoulder on the throw – was able to reenter the game and find Brandon Pettigrew for the game-winning touchdown. Typical Browns.
2. Sept. 8, 2002: Chiefs 40, Browns 39 – Browns backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb, starting for an injured Couch, burst on the scene with a 329-yard, three-touchdown performance in the season opener. Holcomb completed 27-of-39 passes in his first start as a Brown, and the Browns threw four touchdown passes in the game (one from receiver Kevin Johnson). A 41-yard field goal from Dawson with 29 seconds remaining appeared to give the Browns a wild 39-37 win. However, as Trent Green tried to throw a Hail Mary pass with no time remaining, linebacker Dwayne Rudd got to him and appeared to sack him. Green was able to pitch the ball to lineman John Tait just before he went down, but that didn’t stop Rudd from running to midfield and flinging his helmet off in celebration. In the meantime, the 320-pound Tait was rumbling down the sideline, and the officials flagged Rudd for unsportsmanlike conduct for removing his helmet on the field of play. That gave the Chiefs one last play with no time remaining, and veteran Morten Andersen made a 30-yard field goal to give the visitors an improbable win. Rudd will always be remembered in Cleveland for this boneheaded maneuver.
1. Dec. 16, 2001: Jaguars 15, Browns 10 – This game will forever be known simply as “Bottlegate.”
Trailing by five with under a minute to go, Couch drove the Browns deep into Jacksonville territory. Believe it not, the 6-6 Browns still had a chance to make the playoffs, but needed a win. On fourth-and-2 from the Jacksonville 10, Couch connected with Quincy Morgan for three yards and a first down. After Couch spiked the ball to stop the clock on first down, referee Terry McAuley decided to have another look at the Morgan catch – which is forbidden by NFL rules. When McAuley decided to reverse the catch, giving Jacksonville possession with no timeouts remaining, confused and angry Browns fans decided to let the refs know they weren’t happy by throwing whatever they had available onto the playing field. That was mostly hundreds of plastic beer bottles that were, at the time, served at the games. McAuley further broke more NFL rules by deciding to call the game with 48 seconds remaining, but was forced to return to the field, along with both teams, to run two more plays 30 minutes after the game was initially called. The riot from fans makes this one more memorable, but overshadows the fact that McAuley and his officials broke an NFL rule. The Browns wound up finishing 7-9. It’s still the only time that play has been reviewed after another play had already been run.
As you can see, the Browns found 10 very inventive ways to lose a game in this list. It’s not uncommon for a franchise to fall victim to one of these types of losses. Maybe two or three. But 10? And when you realize this is only the tip of the 41 last-second loss iceberg, it only gets more nauseating. I don’t know what forces are at work when it comes to the Cleveland Browns, but I think they’ve made their point by now, don’t you?
Until next time, remember that Cleveland Rocks!