By Adam Bennett
There stood an upset and frail Peyton Manning on the Denver sideline, just moments after throwing his third interception – this one giving the Browns a gift-wrapped opportunity to win the game in overtime.
Manning and his 5-0 Broncos were staring their first defeat right in the face. He was undoubtedly thinking about the barrage of questions he was sure to face from the Denver media: Is he capable of leading this team for the duration of the season? Will he admit that there are throws that he can no longer make? Has he lost his touch?
Against almost any other team, Manning’s Broncos would have fallen to 5-1 on Sunday. After all, he gave the opposition the ball at the Denver 39 in overtime. 10 yards and a first down seals the deal.
But these are the Browns. And no matter how many times they recite it to the press in Berea, they’re the Same Old Browns. With the same old story. And the same old ways to lose.
Just like when they had an opportunity to win the game late in regulation, or when they had a SECOND chance to win late in regulation, playcalling went predictably soft and conservative. The Browns lost 18 yards on a drive which started at the Denver 39, and ended at the Cleveland 43. They punted, and gave Peyton Manning another chance at redemption. He delivered. Like he has time and time again.
There are defining games in every player’s career. There are defining moments in every coach’s tenure. Mike Pettine’s team played out of their minds for a great portion of the game. They silenced critics, they played with purpose, and they gave themselves a chance. Peyton Manning’s team shot themselves in the foot multiple times. They looked like everything we knew about the team they were playing – dropping passes, turning the ball over, surrendering big plays in critical situations.
There’s just one problem.
Mike Pettine’s team lost. Peyton Manning’s team won.
For all the talk about “Playing Like A Brown,” “Controlling the Controllables,” “Doing Your Job” and “Trusting in the Process,” Mike Pettine’s biggest – and most important – challenge is, and always has been, changing the culture. And just like the coaches before him, Pettine’s team had an opportunity to have a season-defining, game-changing win. The end result was doing everything they could to lose.
Rob Chudzinski nearly beat the Patriots in Foxborough. Eric Mangini had back-to-back wins against New England and New Orleans, only to follow that up by losing six of his next eight games. Romeo Crennel followed a 10-6 season by going 4-12. Pat Shurmur nearly won every game, only to find ways to lose them and then champion his battle for progress. The list goes on and on.
It’s too early to definitively say that Sunday was Pettine’s defining game as Browns coach. But if the season, as expected, tumbles to another double-digit year of suffering for Browns fans, we all know which game began the slide.
Great players and coaches make mistakes all the time. Sunday, Peyton Manning made more than his fair share. But he’s defined as a great player because he still found a way to win. Mike Pettine’s Browns? Well, we can’t say the same for them.