Despite having already stated that I feel pretty good after last night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, I find that it is important to point out that it could very easily have turned in to a Cleveland Browns victory. We all know that a single play is often the difference between a win and a loss. So of the combined 147 plays ran last night, the one that made a difference is the interception returned for a touchdown by Cary Williams, right? I say no. Of course it made the difference in the final score, and thus the game, but no, it was not the play. Let me explain.
Near the end of the third quarter, Baltimore was leading 16-10. They lined up for a 47 yard attempt that rookie kicker Justin Tucker missed just a little right. Following the miss, the Browns picked up a first down in Baltimore territory on a pass to Jordan Cameron. Following a first down run to Trent Richardson, the Browns ran a reverse with the fastest man on the team, Travis Benjamin. Benjamin ended up stepping out of bounds for no gain on the play. Watching it live, it appeared to me that he had room to turn the run upfield, even just for an extra yard or two. On the very next play, quarterback Brandon Weeden tried to find Benjamin again on a short out-route, but his pass was picked off by Williams for a 63 yard touchdown return.
I’ve watched the play a few more times now, and I’m still convinced Benjamin had the room to turn up the field instead of running out of bounds. It was not the first time he looked scared of the Ravens players. On a catch earlier in the game, he went to the ground quickly when he saw a bunch of Ravens closing in on him, including Ray Lewis. In his defense, he is the smallest and probably lightest player on the Browns outside of kicker Phil Dawson. I have no doubt that bigger players than Benjamin have fallen down to avoid a punishing Lewis hit. I’m simply pointing out that if he cuts that reverse up the field for even one more yard, there may have been a different play call on third-and-four than on third-and-five, and maybe Weeden wouldn’t have thrown the interception.
The play that everyone will remember as the backbreaker for Cleveland was the interception returned for a touchdown by Williams. But it was the prior play that set the stage for another Browns loss. The offense cannot afford to give points or even yards away. Football can be a game of inches, and those inches can often cost a team a game. Just ask the Green Bay Packers.