CLEVELAND: It was the worst possible way to end the home season.
The stadium started to empty at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden and punter Reggie Hodges were booed. By the final seconds of the Washington Redskins’ 38-21 rout of the Browns, those who remained were rooting for the visitors or hoping to say what could be goodbye to Phil Dawson and Josh Cribbs.
Inside the Browns’ locker room, the rumblings of discontent were even stronger.
Players who never point fingers started down that path. Compliments of Kirk Cousins, the Redskins’ backup quarterback making his first NFL start in place of injured Robert Griffin III, sounded like veiled indictments of the Browns’ coaching staff. Running back Trent Richardson went so far as to say they abandoned their game plan in the second half, when he got two carries.
Any thought that Browns coach Pat Shurmur could save himself vanished in an instant, along with their slim playoff hopes, predicated on victories in the final three games.
On Friday, General Manager Tom Heckert seemed resigned to his firing as new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner restructure the organization after the season. On Sunday, Browns players seemed ready for Shurmur to go, too.
The frustration of it all came pouring out from rookies Richardson and Weeden and co-captain D’Qwell Jackson.
Weeden, the 22nd overall pick, called he and Cousins, a 2012 fourth-rounder from Michigan State, “good buddies.” So when he praised Cousins’ performance, which produced a 104.4 passer rating, Weeden said, “Coach [Mike] Shanahan put him in a great spot. They tailored what he does well, it seemed like they were doing naked [bootlegs] and play-action passes through the middle.”
Later when asked if Griffin’s absence was not the big advantage the Browns might have thought, Weeden added, “I think Kyle Shanahan called a great game and tailored what they do very well to the personnel they have.” He was referring to Shanahan’s son, the Redskins’ offensive coordinator.
Weeden also seemed to back Richardson’s remark when asked about the Browns’ lack of a running game. The Browns threw 35 times and ran 15.
“When you get one-dimensional, it’s impossible in this league to do it for an extended amount of time,” Weeden said. “But that’s on us.”
Weeden acknowledged part of that imbalance was dictated by them falling behind 31-14 with 11:19 remaining. But the Browns’ offense produced 291 net yards and 85 came on two plays — a 69-yard Travis Benjamin touchdown catch and a 16-yard run by Cribbs out of the wildcat. Take away those two and they averaged 4.12 yards on their other 50 snaps.
That lack of production came on the heels of Shurmur’s most inventive game plan in two seasons in a 30-7 home victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, a plan that prompted players’ joyous dunks over the goal post the Friday before the game.
Weeden might have been needling Shurmur even when asked about having four more passes batted down.
“Most of them are underneath throws … 2 or 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage,” he said. He later acknowledged, “It’s been one of our better plays.”
Those reading between the lines might have wondered if Weeden was asking himself why those shallow crossing routes are still on Shurmur’s play sheet, especially with a big-armed quarterback like him. He may have been having a gag-me-with-a-spoon response to the West Coast offense’s emphasis on the YAC (yards after the catch).
While not nearly as strong as Weeden’s and Richardson’s remarks, Jackson criticized Weeden’s game-turning interception, which came 48 seconds into the second half and set up the touchdown that put Washington ahead for good.
“That’s the most important series of the ballgame and we throw a pick. You can’t do it. You can’t turn the ball over like that,” Jackson said. “Then we’ve got to keep them out of the end zone.”
Jackson did not seem to be personally attacking Weeden, just pointing out fatal mistakes. He softened the blow when he said the defense should have held the Redskins to a field goal.
But it seemed like another example of how Browns’ players, tired of losing and their coach’s ineffective offense, can’t take much more. Especially when they look at the Shanahans on the other sideline and see the Redskins, without RG3, rolling to their fifth straight victory.
All that’s left for the Browns now is the role of spoilers in road trips to Denver and Pittsburgh. Their third 5-11 season in four years appears on the horizon. They know massive changes are coming under Haslam and Banner.
As he left the locker room, Richardson stopped at Jackson’s locker and they spoke briefly. One of the Browns’ stand-up leaders for the past seven years might have been telling one following in his footsteps what comes next and how to handle it.
Or, after a truly miserable afternoon on the lakefront, Richardson may have had more to say.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.