DETROIT — The Browns bounded out of the bye, striking quickly and grabbing their first double-digit lead of the season.
They showed resolve, recovering from a ghastly gaffe at the end of the half to regain the lead with two touchdowns to open the third quarter.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer displayed the toughness that earns the trust of coaches and respect of teammates by returning from a painful rib injury that knocked him out for much of the fourth quarter.
Yet coach Hue Jackson stood in the bowels of Ford Field late Sunday afternoon talking about another loss. The Browns wilted in the fourth quarter and fell 38-24 to the Detroit Lions (5-4).
They are 0-9 for the second straight season and 1-24 since the new regime and coaching staff took over. The Browns matched the Lions for the worst 46-game stretch in NFL history at 4-42.
“We lost. We’re still losing,” Jackson said. “I’m going to say it again. I didn’t come here to lose. I came here to turn this organization around. I’m not going to get off of that. There’s no moral victories, there’s no ‘we played better,’ there’s none of that. There’s winning and losing.
“The heat is going to ratchet up or simmering hot or whatever you want to call it, but it doesn’t faze me. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the guys in the locker room. That’s what matters most to me — the people in our organization and our building and our fans. I know our fans are disappointed, but I just keep telling them, hang in there. We just need to keep working and keep getting better.”
Jackson chose to absorb all the blame for Kizer’s stuffed sneak attempt from the 2-yard line with 15 seconds left in the second quarter and no timeouts. The clock ran out before the Browns could spike the ball or run another play, as they blew the chance for at least three points after reaching the 2-yard line with 19 seconds left.
On first down, Kizer threw a good pass to rookie tight end David Njoku on a corner route, but Njoku initially turned the wrong way then couldn’t get a second foot down inbounds. On second down, Kizer took the snap and tried to fit through the middle but had nowhere to go. Running back Duke Johnson slammed his helmet to the ground in frustration and Jackson grabbed Kizer for a conversation on the way off the field.
“That’s on me. We don’t need to go into it,” Jackson said, dismissing questions about the sneak. “I need to do a better job with the offensive unit. It’s that simple. I’m taking the fall on everything. We’re an 0-9 football team right now.”
Jackson told Kizer to let his explanation stand, but left guard Joel Bitonio and tight end Seth DeValve told the real story.
“So we got to the line and we audibled to the sneak,” Bitonio said.
“We had a different play called, “DeValve said. “DeShone took it upon himself to sneak it, which is not a bad thing to do, we didn’t get it.”
The Lions lay on Kizer and right tackle Shon Coleman after the sneak, preventing them from getting out of the pile and lined up in time.
“I don’t know what the rule is, if you’re allowed to hold people after the play for something like that because I think that’s a smart tactic if they’re not going to call anything like that,” Bitonio said.
“Yeah, that’s the defense’s job,” said Kizer, who went 21-for-37 for 232 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 73.3 rating. “Anytime the clock’s rolling, they’re going to try to stay on top of you. They did a good job of making sure we couldn’t get up and get the ball snapped to kill it.”
Bitonio said there were a “couple yells” after the wasted chance, but the Browns put it behind them quickly and put together 85- and 80-yard touchdown drives to start the second half and take a 24-17 lead on Kizer’s 1-yard sneak of redemption.
The Browns did more good things than they normally do.
They rushed for 201 yards against the sixth-ranked run defense, all but 4 in the first three quarters. Isaiah Crowell had a season-high 90 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Duke Johnson had 10 rushes for 54 yards. Kizer added 57 and a touchdown on seven carries.
Kizer came out firing with a 38-yard completion to receiver Sammie Coates on the first offensive play. Even receiver Kenny Britt, who returned to regular action after being benched in London before the bye, caught two passes for 38 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown for a 10-0 lead.
“We came back and did what I thought we should’ve been doing all along,” Jackson said of the start to the second half. “We started churning out these drives, guys making plays, running the ball, finishing blocks, finishing runs. That’s who we are. And then all of a sudden it stopped.”
The bad Browns always show up.
DeValve was stripped by cornerback Nevin Lawson, who recovered the fumble and returned in 44 yards for a 17-10 lead in the second quarter. A handful of passes were dropped, and Kizer and Njoku connected once for 3 yards on six targets.
A blown protection by Njoku allowed cornerback Quandre Diggs to drill Kizer in the ribs with six seconds left in the third quarter. Cody Kessler filled in for seven plays — they went for minus-13 yards and he was sacked three times.
The defense finished the meltdown by allowing three touchdowns after being handed a lead in the third quarter. It gave up 5.5 yards a rush and 104 total on the ground, and Matthew Stafford threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns. A poorly timed blitz call paved the way for the insurance touchdown on a 40-yard receiver screen to Golden Tate.
“It don’t matter how close you come, this isn’t horseshoes,” rookie free safety Jabrill Peppers said. “Our offense did a great job putting us in position to win, we’ve just got to execute on defense.
“I feel like I say the same thing every week, it’s more us beating ourselves.”
Social media went hard after Jackson after the end-of-half fiasco. That’s nothing new for a guy who’s seemingly been on the hot seat since the season started.
“That’s the least of my worries. Twitter can blow up as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “We’re talking about Hue Jackson. It doesn’t matter to me.
“I’ve been taking the heat since I came here, so I’m not going to worry about that. We didn’t get it done.”