Defense again falters when it matters most

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
6:26
PM ET
CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns' defense talks a good game.

The Browns can recite numbers with the best of them to show where they are ranked league-wide, and what they need to do to be ranked high if they’re not.

But there is also is this fact: For the third week in a row, the Browns had a fourth-quarter lead and the defense squandered it.

Sunday the Chicago Bears scored 21 points in the final 15 minutes en route to a 38-31 win.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
AP Photo/Mark DuncanThe Cleveland Browns had trouble stopping Alshon Jeffery and the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter.
Which would project to 84 points a game, which is pretty good.

Early, the Browns were buoyed by two defensive touchdowns -- an interception and a fumble return -- that had the defense off to a great start. But late, the defense did not come through when it mattered most. It collapsed, buried under the weight of its mistakes and the Bears' athletic plays.

That makes three games in a row the defense did not stop the other team when it mattered most.

Jacksonville (!) drove 80 yards in the final minute for a game-winning touchdown.

New England had officiating help on its last drive, but the 82-yarder that made that last drive meaningful was against the Browns' defense.

And Chicago saw Jay Cutler salivate at the loss of cornerback Joe Haden to a hip pointer, then lead the Bears to three scores in the final 10:59.

The first was an athletic catch by Alshon Jeffery behind Tashaun Gipson, with the help of the wind. That play was set up by an interference call on Leon McFadden and a holding call on Buster Skrine, the two corners playing with Haden out. (Julian Posey wound up covering Jeffery on the touchdown.)

On Chicago’s next two possessions, the Bears ran the ball down the vaunted Browns' throats.

Twenty-two of 36 yards came on the ground on the next TD drive, then 74 of 78 on the drive that sealed it.

The Browns played a team that had to go on the road after playing Monday night, a team that had a quarterback starting his first game in a month. The defense gave up 179 yards rushing, 127 to Matt Forte, and 265 and three touchdowns passing.

The fourth quarter was the worst.

While the Browns have been giving up 12, 16 and 21 points in the fourth quarter the past three games, they’ve scored 21 -- seven against the Bears on a late TD when the Browns were already down 14. In fourth quarters all season, the Browns have been outscored 128-66, or just less than 2 to 1.

The last four games the opposition finished with 27, 32, 27 and 38 points, an average of 31 per game. Yes but, some might say. As in, but the offense turned it over, or the defense was tired, or the moon was in the seventh house. Last time anyone checked, the defense was on the field when many of the points were scored.

In 11 of 14 games this season, the other team scored 23 points or more -- 23.5 was the league average heading into the game. In five of them it was 31 or more. Opponents are averaging 26 points per game on a defense that touts itself as quite a bit more special than it is.

Sure, the Bears scored on an interception return, which means they scored 31 on offense. Hoo hoo.

A top defense does not give up this kind of scoring.

A top defense does not finish games this way.

A top defense makes a stand when a stand is needed.

Until that happens, perhaps it’s time to put away the numbers and metrics. Just go out and win a stinking game.

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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