CLEVELAND: Browns coach Pat Shurmur said he wasn’t worried or concerned about anything, so much so that he instructed reporters to hold those questions and “think of other things to ask me.”
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden believed he put the ball where he wanted to all night and insisted the offense was close to making some big plays.
Few knew how the offensive line felt after giving up five sacks and committing five of the team’s six penalties because the starters left before the locker room’s delayed opening. Two who were chased down in the hallway, center Alex Mack and left tackle Joe Thomas, did stop to talk.
After the Browns’ 27-10 preseason loss Friday to the visiting Philadelphia Eagles, the theme of the night was denial.
Two who seemed to grasp most how poorly the Browns played were running back Montario Hardesty and soon-to-be owner Jimmy Haslam III.
Haslam watched much of the first half from the Dawg Pound. He was distracted by photograph- and autograph-seekers, but got the gist of the Browns’ disastrous first-quarter performance that included three fumbles (two lost), three sacks (two resulting in fumbles), a blocked punt and three offensive-line penalties, two on left guard Jason Pinkston and one on Mack.
Haslam flew in from Knoxville, Tenn., for his first preseason game, and it turned out to be a stinker. It was quite a departure from the first practice Haslam witnessed, a spirited session Aug. 3.
“It wasn’t pretty,” a red-faced Haslam said as he strode through the press box at halftime.
Hardesty’s face registered the dismay he felt after losing his second fumble in two games.
“I couldn’t find a grip on the ball,” Hardesty said. “I have to hold on to the ball.”
Hardesty later picked up on the dire tone of the media’s questions and followed his coach down the yellow brick road.
“It’s not press the big panic button,” Hardesty said. “We didn’t play good today, though. It’s preseason game No. 3. We were hoping to keep building on what we’ve been doing. I think we took a step back today. It’s something that can be fixed, we just need to come back in and fix it.”
Browns preseason television analyst Bernie Kosar wasn’t happy with Weeden’s smiling demeanor as the game wound down. The 22nd overall pick, Weeden was outplayed by Eagles rookie Nick Foles, a third-round choice from Arizona. But Weeden was still upbeat afterward.
“I saw everything they were doing,” Weeden said. “I also knew exactly where I was going with the football, just wasn’t able to connect on a few of them I would have liked to. Overall, we’re on the same page, we’re all doing the right things, it’s just a matter of capitalizing and getting it done.”
Shurmur glossed over the offensive-line gaffes, saying that the receivers, running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks also made mistakes.
“We need to execute better,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a finger to be pointed there, except to the whole crew, including me.”
Everyone expected the fiery Shurmur to be angry in his post-game news conference, but apparently he got most of that out of his system behind closed doors.
On the other hand, no one wants the coach to be taking a woe-is-us mentality already, even with the season opener against the Eagles rapidly approaching Sept. 9.
Still, there are obvious concerns.
The Browns have had trouble with two standout defensive lines, the stout Detroit Lions and the speedy Eagles.
The offensive line, thought to be the strength of the team, doesn’t seem to be a cohesive unit yet, even though it has just one new starter, rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
Weeden must protect the ball better when he’s sacked.
The special teams aren’t very special, except for kicker Phil Dawson, though likely hurt by the parade of players being tried there.
The running game desperately needs rookie Trent Richardson, who underwent the second arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 9. Hardesty averaged 1.5 yards per carry against the Eagles. Brandon Jackson was more productive (with a 4.9 average) against the second- and third-teamers.
The Eagles are clearly superior to the Browns in speed, although that might be said in comparison with many of the NFL’s 32 teams. Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown may be in for a long day in the opener, even if Joe Haden does miss the game due to a league suspension.
That’s not to say all was doom and gloom. Weeden’s arm is clearly superior to anyone else’s on the Browns’ roster. Rookie receiver Josh Gordon seems to be coming on. Defenders like rookie Billy Winn and first-year safety David Sims flashed again.
“I’m not worried, disappointed or concerned,” Shurmur said. “We’re going to get it fixed.”
Shurmur believes there’s time. He has to remain upbeat, especially with the uncertainty of his future after Haslam’s purchase is approved in mid-October staring him in the face. That may be the best way for Shurmur to cope with the massive changes that are likely in store.
Perhaps Shurmur convinced Haslam that the team’s problems against the Eagles will be corrected quickly. But Haslam didn’t seem very upbeat as he left the stadium with his wife, Susan. Maybe he was starting to realize the multitude of reasons the Browns were for sale.
Yes, it’s only preseason. But on Friday night, the Browns’ optimism bordered on delusion.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.