Plan A is already off the board in Cleveland after a disastrous debut in Philadelphia, and the contingency looked pretty darn good, at least for a few minutes, during the Browns’ home opener on Sunday.
But for those starving for football relevance in the Forest City, a fast start quickly turned into a mirage as the Baltimore Ravens scored 25 straight points en route to a 25-20 victory over their AFC North rival.
Hours after it was revealed that Robert Griffin III isn’t a good bet to return this season, veteran backup Josh McCown quickly helped the Cleveland faithful get over that by helping the Browns put up 20 points during an electric first quarter, featuring two touchdown receptions by rookie first-round pick Corey Coleman and an 85-yard scoring run by Isaiah Crowell.
Considering the Ravens’ defense gave up a total of seven points in their season-opening win over Buffalo and the Browns managed all of 10 points during a setback to the Eagles in Week 1, that was quite the turnaround in the first 10 ½ minutes of game action on Sunday.
The lead, however, was not 21-0 after Coleman’s second TD snare because Patrick Murray’s PAT was blocked and returned the other way for two points by Tavon Young.
You could almost sense the 70,000 or so at FirstEnergy Stadium were looking to the sky, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And it most certainly did, racing down from the heavens with quite the thud.
Cleveland never scored again after McCown injured his non-throwing shoulder late in the first quarter and, while he didn’t miss any game action, some hard hits from Baltimore’s Timmy Jernigan and Michael Pierce particularly began to add up on the 37-year-old.
Meanwhile, the Ravens were starting to get their “road legs” a bit when Joe Flacco found Mike Wallace for a 7-yard TD.
By the time Baltimore sandwiched intermission with a Justin Tucker 52-yard field goal and another Flacco-to-Wallace scoring connection, this one a 17-yarder, a 20-0 Cleveland advantage had evaporated into a 20-19 game, and there was still over 12 minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Ravens finally took the lead when Tucker was true from 49 yards out with just over 11 minutes left and the Pro Bowl kicker’s third FG of the game, a 41-yarder with under three minutes to go, accounted for the final margin.
There were a lot of moral victories here for the Browns.
Joe Haden intercepted Flacco twice, Coleman showed the kind of talent that could really be exploited once Josh Gordon returns from his latest suspension, and Crowell ended up with 133 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, McCown nearly changed this narrative by leading Cleveland down the field in the waning minutes before C.J. Mosley picked off a pass intended for Terrelle Pryor at the Baltimore 1-yard-line with seconds left.
After looking like Cleveland should be relegated to the CFL in Philadelphia a week ago, Hue Jackson went back to the drawing board and had the Browns resembling an NFL team again.
Finishing, though, is obviously going to be a problem for this team, and that part of the equation doesn’t figure to change anytime soon no matter what plan Jackson implements.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season on ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, and KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.