INDIANAPOLIS: Receivers couldn’t get open.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden reverted to his 2012 form.
The Browns’ defense couldn’t stop Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who was effective with his feet and his arm.
And what was up with the Browns’ shoes?
The optimism sparked by the Browns’ two preseason victories was snuffed Saturday night by the Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium. In what is considered the most important game of the exhibition season, the Browns were humbled in all phases in a 27-6 loss.
Even lacing their cleats seemed a challenge.
Johnson Bademosi lost his shoe on a second-quarter kickoff return, the leather remaining in the end zone as the safety advanced the ball to the 15. About three minutes later, it happened again, when rookie cornerback Leon McFadden saw a shoe fly as he tried to defend receiver Reggie Wayne on a 15-yard completion.
One Browns fan, who has spent much of his life driving from Louisville, Ky., to Cleveland to watch his beloved team, texted from his seat in the end zone. “Pathetic,” was all he said.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski was so dismayed by the lack of production that he left his starters in one series longer than he planned. He gave them two third-quarter possessions and saw them generate just three points on a 50-yard field goal by Shayne Graham, that coming on their last chance.
Weeden vs. Luck seemed a total mismatch, but Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, had more dependable weapons at his disposal. The Colts exploited McFadden, making his preseason debut, going at him from the first series on. Wayne caught seven passes for 79 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey added three for 33 yards. Luck connected with seven different receivers in the first half.
Meanwhile, Weeden’s targets were inconsistent except for his Oklahoma State pal Josh Cooper, who gave the final drive some spark. Greg Little turned the ball over after a 10-yard catch. Josh Gordon had a drop. Tight end Jordan Cameron bobbled a ball.
With the receivers unable to create separation, the Browns’ offense morphed into the dink-and-dunk attack of old. When he faced pressure, Weeden began looking at his first read, then throwing the ball away. After starting 6-for-6, he finished 12-for-25 — 6 for his final 19.
The lone bright spot offensively was running back Trent Richardson. After sitting out the first preseason game with a bothersome right shin, Richardson attacked the hole aggressively. He rushed seven times for 31 yards (4.4 average), with a long gain of 12 yards, and caught a 10-yard pass. He also sacrificed his body on a blitz pickup on the Browns’ fifth offensive play.
He looked so good on the first series — with three carries for 22 yards, two of them up the middle, and his reception — that I’d seen enough. I would have had no problem if Chudzinski had lifted Richardson then, saving him for the Sept. 8 season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
Starters are expected to sit Thursday when the Browns visit the Chicago Bears. That might still be the case, but with so many errors against the Colts to correct, the coaching staff might turn up the intensity in practice.
The Browns don’t face the Colts this season, which spares them the indignity of trying to defend Luck when it counts. But the schedule includes dates with the Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, both on the road. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton surely has some tricks — and blitzes — in store for them.
But Horton’s defense showed only one flash of the big plays it should be capable of. That came late in the second quarter when pressure by defensive end Paul Kruger forced Luck’s interception on a pass to fullback Stanley Havili. Free safety Tashaun Gipson showed great hands and good reaction after Havili tipped the ball, picking it off at the Colts’ 2. But such moments were largely nonexistent the rest of the evening.
Even the special teams had blunders. Punter Spencer Lanning, who saw his competition T.J. Conley waived last week, had a 29-yard boot early in the second quarter. He did follow with kicks of 65 and 50 yards.
Such inconsistency has been the Browns’ trademark during five consecutive losing seasons and 12 sub-.500 seasons in 14 years. To build the Browns into a playoff contender, Chudzinski must eliminate the erratic efforts like the Browns displayed Saturday.
Weeden wasn’t the only offender against the Colts, just the most high-profile one. But following two outstanding performances with a stinker seemed all too familiar.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the 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.