By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
DENVER – Here are some final thoughts on the Browns’ 34-12 loss against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:
>>The final score wasn’t all from this game that left a lingering feeling of discouragement. Two main cogs of the Browns’ offense, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, also suffered injuries. Richardson hurt his foot near the end of the game, and exited the locker room in a walking boot. Weeden sustained a shoulder injury late in the third quarter. The fact both could miss next week’s season-finale at Pittsburgh isn’t notable because of how could impact the Browns’ immediate fortunes, obviously. But it would take away one final opportunity to evaluate the progress of both rookies and for them to gain vital experience.
>>We received a fairly convincing reminder about the sizeable gap between these teams. The Broncos, who have 10 consecutive victories, are arguably the best team in the NFL. The Browns, who have suffered back-to-back losses, are hardly the worst, but they simply aren’t quite ready to compete with the best. They entered the game with a distinct disadvantage from having such a young roster and losing players to injury before the game. Then, things understandably went downhill as they began suffering more injuries during the game. The Browns’ defense, which has played mostly well this season, was clearly overmatched against Peyton Manning, who continued to make his strong case for league MVP. The Browns never were able to be effective with their pass rush, as Manning consistently got the ball out of his hands quickly.
>>Losing Weeden is particularly unfortunate because it is important for him, and for the Browns, that he has the opportunity to finish out a full season. Now that is in doubt. The Browns’ hierarchy needs to see exactly what it has from Weeden in order to have a complete enough body of work determine if, in fact, he should be the long-term answer at quarterback. Weeden performed a little better than he did the previous week against the Redskins, but his game still left plenty to be desired against the Broncos’ highly aggressive pass rush.
>>Give Colt McCoy credit for managing to throw a touchdown pass after replacing Weeden. As the backup, he had no real opportunity to prepare for the game because Weeden took all of the first-unit snaps in practice. To his credit, McCoy had some occasions where he took advantage of the soft cushion the Broncos’ defense provided in an effort to prevent the Browns from getting any quick scores. But predictably, the ceiling caved in on him in the fourth quarter, because with the Browns so far behind and the Broncos’ pass-rushers knew he would be throwing on virtually every play and were able to merely tee off on him. If McCoy ends up starting against the Steelers, he would be in a position to perform better after a full week of preparation.
>>The Browns never got much going on the ground, beyond some occasional impressive runs by Richardson and Montario Hardesty. The Broncos’ early offensive success likely discouraged Pat Shurmur from being persistent, and eventually the Browns had to get away from the run completely as they fell farther behind. Still, the Browns need to figure out a way to get a consistently effective running game. Richardson is far too talented not to be more productive.
>>This was not the game for the Browns to have to lean so heavily on the depth of their secondary. They entered the game without safeties T.J. Ward (knee) and Tashaun Gipson (foot), and then proceeded to lose veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown to a head injury during the game. Manning already was pretty much doing as he pleased through the air, and the situation only worsened as the Browns became thinner on the back end of their defense.
>>It looked as if the Browns might have had at least an outside chance to gain a little momentum after safety Usama Young intercepted Manning in the end zone at the end of the half. Such turnovers are rare for Manning, and it left him and the Broncos with something to stew about at halftime. With the Browns getting the second-half kickoff, it seemed as if they might have had something upon which they could build. But it never happened.
>>Nice to see Phil Dawson connect on a 53-yard field goal, his longest of the season. No, it didn’t have any impact on the outcome, but Dawson usually manages to provide a bright spot to mention … especially on a day when so few can be found.
>>Final score and 5-10 record notwithstanding, happy holidays!
>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.
>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 855-363-2459.
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