CLEVELAND: As Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden collapsed in the second half by throwing two devastating interceptions, his counterpart thrived.
And it wasn’t rookie sensation Robert Griffin III.
The Browns’ three-game winning streak and slim playoff hopes were destroyed Sunday by the Washington Redskins and rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins, who started in place of Griffin because he was sidelined with a sprained right knee. Instead of capitalizing on Griffin’s absence, the Browns were shredded by Cousins and fell 38-21 in their last home game of the season.
“It ruined our chances of playing in January,” tight end Jordan Cameron said. “That’s what everyone wants to play for.”
The Browns (5-9) would have stayed in contention for a wild-card berth heading into next weekend if they had defeated the Redskins (8-6) because the Dallas Cowboys edged the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 in overtime. But the Browns failed to take care of business and are now eliminated from qualifying for the postseason.
“We wanted to give our fans a better final game at home, give them something to cheer about and keep this momentum rolling we’ve had the last few weeks,” said Weeden, who completed 21-of-35 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. “When you don’t play as well as you’d like to, it’s frustrating. You’re always going to look back and say, ‘Man, what could we have done different?’ ”
The outcome certainly won’t help coach Pat Shurmur’s chances of keeping his job beyond this season. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner are expected to reveal their decisions about the fate of Shurmur, General Manager Tom Heckert and other key members of the organization shortly after the season ends Dec. 30.
“I’m OK,” Shurmur said after wrapping up his postgame news conference. “I’m built for this.”
Rookie running back Trent Richardson rushed for touchdowns of 6 and 1 yards to help the Browns earn a 14-10 halftime lead, but it quickly vanished after Weeden threw his first interception. As Weeden tried to connect with wide receiver Greg Little over the middle, linebacker Rob Jackson intercepted the pass and returned it 17 yards to the Browns’ 15-yard line with 14:12 left in the third quarter. Three plays later, rookie running back Alfred Morris ran for a 3-yard touchdown to give the Redskins a 17-14 lead.
“That’s the most important series of the ballgame, and we throw a pick,” middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “You can’t do it. You can’t turn the ball over like that.”
Jackson, the defense’s captain, wasn’t the only Browns player who engaged in finger-pointing after the game. Richardson criticized Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress for straying from the game plan and abandoning the run in the second half. After gaining 24 yards on his first four carries, Richardson finished with 28 yards on 11 carries, including just two after halftime.
“We let ourselves down, and we let the whole city of Cleveland down, especially the season-ticket holders,” Richardson said. “I feel for bad for them, and I want to say as a man, I just want to come to them and apologize because this was the last home game. We’re supposed to go out with a blast. It was a big ballgame, and we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”
After Morris scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns, Weeden threw incomplete on third down to signal another three-and-out for an offense that often struggled to find a rhythm. Reggie Hodges then punted 32 yards to the Redskins’ 40, and the sequence drew boos from the crowd at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Seven plays later, Cousins faked a handoff, dropped back and delivered a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Leonard Hankerson to give the Redskins a 24-14 lead with 7:40 left in the third quarter. Cousins tormented the Browns with his play-action fakes and rollouts, completing 26-of-37 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
“There’s nothing we can take from him,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “He ran the offense like RG3 would run it.”
Weeden later threw his second interception when he tried to connect with Little by lofting the ball over middle linebacker London Fletcher. But Weeden said the funny bone on his throwing arm hit a helmet as he released, and the ball sailed into the hands of Fletcher, a Cleveland native. Redskins running back Evan Royster rushed for a 4-yard touchdown 10 plays later, and Weeden’s 69-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin on the ensuing series proved to be too little, too late.
“I didn’t play well for the most part throughout,” Weeden said. “I’m not losing any confidence over it because I felt like I’m still going in the right direction. I just didn’t play well enough to put this team in position to win. I put our defense in a tough spot. You just can’t turn it over. You have to get first downs, and that’s my job. I didn’t do a good enough job of it.”
As a result, the Browns’ longest winning streak since 2009 came to a screeching halt.
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.