You can take the Browns out of Cleveland, but you can't take Cleveland out of the Browns.
The Cleveland Browns lost this game in a way that only the Cleveland Browns could. Just when you think you have them figured out, they surprise you. And then they surprise you again.
The key to winning this game, by all accounts, was for Cleveland to take an early lead and maintain it. New England is the best second-half team in the NFL as of late. Cleveland needed to win this game in the first half and hold on for dear life in the second. For the most part, they did. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.
Cleveland started the game off well, taking 5:42 seconds off the clock and capping off their 47-yard drive with a Billy Cundiff field goal. The Browns defense showed up in the first half, forcing an interception, a fumble, and five punts on the Patriots' first seven meaningful possessions. Unfortunately, the Browns offense was less-than-stellar, as usual. Campbell led the Browns down the field twice in the first half but was unable to put anything in the endzone, leading to two Cleveland field goals before the halfway mark and a 6-0 Cleveland lead going into the locker rooms.
The second half proved to be more exciting. After a 14-point showing from the Cleveland offense in the third quarter, the Patriots woke up and the fourth quarter was like watching two gassed boxers trading body blows before the final bell. The Patriots took their opening drive of the fourth quarter for a field goal to bring the score to 19-14 with Cleveland in the lead. The Browns responded on the ensuing drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron, putting the Browns ahead by 12 with 2:39 left on the clock. Tom Brady took the Patriots 95 yards in 1:38, hitting Julian Edelman in the back of the endzone for a 2 yard touchdown and cutting the Browns lead to 5 points. An unfortunate Unnecessary Roughness penalty on Browns rookie defensive back Jordan Poyer would move the kickoff up to the 50, and the Patriots would go on to recover a perfectly executed onside kick.
At this point, Browns fans had already resigned themselves to losing. After all, this is Cleveland we're talking about. If this were a movie, this would be the part where the young rookie redeems himself and makes a game saving interception. As a matter of fact, if this were any other franchise, that would be the case. But this isn't a movie, this is Cleveland. This isn't any other franchise, they are the Browns
The Patriots marched down the field, with the the help of a highly questionable pass interference call for the second time this season, and Brady found Amendola on a 1-yard touchdown pass to put the Patriots ahead 27-26 with 0:31 left on the clock.
Now, if only the Browns had a kicker with experience in this situation. If only there was somebody who knew how it felt to kick a high pressure, go-ahead kick against the Patriots in Foxborough. If only there was a kicker out there who fit that description.
Come on, really? The game is on the line, and the Browns have the only kicker in the history of the world to be dissed on his own team's website.** Of course it would be Cundiff.
And of course he would miss.
To be fair, the game shouldn't have come down to that. The vaunted Browns defense once again blew a late-game lead and put their team in a bad position. At two different points in the second half, the Browns had a double-digit lead. With 2:39 left in the game, the Browns had a 12-point lead and let Tom Brady march 82 yards in just over a minute and cut the lead to one possession.
There is enough blame to pass around. You can blame the playcalling, the lack of defense, even the officiating. One thing that you can't deny, however, is that the Browns aren't a great team. Great teams find a way to win in spite of bad officiating. Great teams don't let their opponents drive 82 yards in the matter of a minute. Great teams expect their kickers to hit 57 yard field goals into the wind.
And most of all, great teams don't make excuses.
This begs the question, however: what next? What else can the Browns possibly do in one season to surprise us, while also not really surprising us? My guess is that next week, they fly to Chicago believing it to be an away game.