DENVER: Rookie running back Trent Richardson hobbled toward the team’s bus with a gray walking boot on his left leg, and rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden winced as tight end Alex Smith helped him pull off his protective vest in the locker room.
The Browns left Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday night with physical and emotional wounds after suffering an embarrassing 34-12 loss at the hands of quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The Browns (5-10) suffered their second consecutive defeat and their 10th loss in a row against the Broncos (12-3), who still have a chance to claim the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed.
The status of Richardson and Weeden, the Browns’ first-round picks in this year’s draft, is in question for the Dec. 30 season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Richardson injured his left ankle on the Browns’ second-to-last offensive play. As Broncos strong safety Mike Adams, who played for the Browns from 2007-11, drove backup quarterback Colt McCoy to the ground, McCoy fell on Richardson’s left ankle with 44 seconds remaining.
“I was just trying to not get knocked out,” McCoy said when told he landed on Richardson.
After time expired, Richardson was carted off the field. He didn’t want to talk about the injury after the game, but he said his ankle is not broken.
“I wouldn’t be walking if it was broken,” Richardson said. “I’m fine. I’ll be all right.”
Some Browns players were angry and frustrated that coach Pat Shurmur continued to call passing plays in the final two minutes with his team trailing by 22 points. The Broncos’ pass rushers were teeing off on McCoy at that point, and they tallied their fifth and sixth sacks of the game during the Browns’ last possession. As Richardson pass blocked linebacker Wesley Woodyard, McCoy’s legs drove into his ankle.
When asked if the Browns should have handed the ball off and run out the clock with the outcome sealed, McCoy said: “That’s a question you can ask Pat [Shurmur], honestly. I took off a couple times because that was just the only thing to do.”
Weeden left the game for good with an injured right shoulder he suffered when Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller sacked him with 3:59 left in the third quarter. Miller was unblocked during the play. Weeden, who received predraft interest from the Broncos before they signed Manning to a five-year, $96 million contract in March, completed 12-of-19 passes for 104 yards without a touchdown or an interception.
Weeden denied multiple interview requests after the game.
“I’ll talk to you Wednesday,” he said. “I’m all right.”
With the Browns trailing 21-6, McCoy replaced Weeden immediately after he was hurt and finished the game. McCoy completed 9-of-17 passes for 79 yards and connected with wide receiver Greg Little for a 6-yard touchdown with 7:56 left in the fourth quarter. McCoy was then tackled short of the end zone while trying to run for a two-point conversion.
Shurmur said “it’s way too early to tell” whether McCoy will start against the Steelers, who were mathematically eliminated from qualifying for the playoffs when they fell 13-10 to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
“I don’t know even what’s wrong with everyone,” said McCoy, who compiled a record of 6-15 as a starter during the past two seasons with the Browns. “I’ll strap it up and be ready to play. But to be honest, I don’t know the situation.”
“We hope, as a team, Brandon’s OK. You never want to see anyone go down. We hope Trent is all right.”
Richardson broke Jim Brown’s franchise rookie rushing record, finishing with nine carries for 53 yards. Brown rushed for 942 yards in 1957. Richardson now has 950 yards, and his most recent injury might prevent him from reaching the 1,000-yard mark.
Despite McCoy’s late touchdown pass and Richardson’s record, the Browns were thoroughly dominated from start to finish.
Manning completed 30-of-43 passes for 339 yards and three for touchdowns with one interception. The Broncos, who haven’t lost to Cleveland since 1990, led 14-3 at halftime courtesy of two pinpoint touchdown passes from Manning. Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown applied tight coverage during both plays, but wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker made spectacular catches for touchdowns of 22 and 10 yards, respectively.
The luck of Brown didn’t improve as the game progressed. With 3:26 left in the first half, Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley drilled Brown as he ran across the field. Brown stayed on the ground for a minute or two before walking off the field with trainers. He suffered a concussion and did not return.
Manning, a friend of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, orchestrated two more touchdown drives in the second half to bury a defense featuring a depleted secondary. He tied Brett Favre’s NFL record with the 72nd three-touchdown game of his career and improved to 6-0 against the Browns. Manning entered Sunday with just two touchdown passes and six interceptions against the Browns, but he didn’t have any trouble picking them apart this time to earn bragging rights against Haslam.
“[Our] record sucks,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “Everybody is disappointed. You lose a game and you try to explain why it happened. But we lost and we need to do better, and we just need to win. We can’t keep coming in here and talking to [the media] and saying, ‘This is what they did and this is how they did it.’ They just beat us. That is what it is getting down to. We need to make more plays on offense, defense and special teams to come out with a win.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.