CLEVELAND — The rookie quarterback regressed, throwing two interceptions then losing two fumbles in the final two minutes with a win there for the taking.
The run game went in reverse, gaining 50 yards on 18 carries on a day when unpredictable weather made passing an adventure at times. The defense kept the team in it but still allowed 139 rushing yards, albeit on 44 attempts.
The pass protection crumbled against the league’s top sack team, allowing five, including the two strip-sacks.
The Browns walked out of FirstEnergy Stadium on the wrong side of every pivotal statistic.
One summed up the day: Jaguars 19, Browns 7.
Another captured the depressing state of the franchise: The Browns set an NFL mark for futility at 4-43 over their last 47 games, starting with a loss to the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 30, 2014. They had been tied with the 2007-10 Detroit Lions at 4-42.
“Couldn’t get it done,” said coach Hue Jackson, who’s 1-25 in two seasons. “We had our shot.”
The Jaguars improved to 7-3 and are alone in first place in the AFC South. Their pass rush, secondary and run game proved to be as good as advertised, yet with a pedestrian quarterback and passing attack, they allowed the Browns to hang around until the final two minutes in a 13-6 game.
That’s when quarterback DeShone Kizer’s two fumbles cemented the outcome.
On third-and-10 from the Jaguars 40-yard line, the pocket collapsed and Kizer couldn’t escape. The ball slipped out of his right hand just before his back hit the ground with ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue dragging him down. A replay review overturned the call that Kizer was down, and gave the ball to the Jaguars. Dante Fowler had recovered and likely would’ve scored a touchdown if the official hadn’t whistled the play dead.
After the defense forced a punt — there were 17 on a day with gusting winds and occasional precipitation — Kizer took over at the Cleveland 20 with 1:24 left and needing a touchdown for his first victory. On first down, Ngakoue beat left tackle Spencer Drango, who had a rough day in his third start since replacing Joe Thomas, and knocked the ball loose. Linebacker Telvin Smith, who had an interception in the first quarter, recovered in the end zone for the clinching touchdown.
Kizer was dejected after three fourth-quarter turnovers.
“It hurts. I am trying to do whatever I can to string together some games and continue to prove my development to my teammates and to continue to earn the respect of them,” he said. “This is the first game that I have come off of the field feeling as if I didn’t prove that I developed in at least one area.”
Jackson, who benched Kizer three times in the first half of the season, quickly stated Kizer would keep the starting job for the final six games.
“Where we are right now, I need to continue to see him,” Jackson said. “Let’s let him play. Let’s let him play this thing out.
“I want to walk away from this season knowing exactly what DeShone Kizer is top to bottom. He deserves that.”
Kizer wasn’t comforted.
“It is a bad feeling knowing that it’s a question,” he said.
Kizer, the No. 52 pick out of Notre Dame, seemed to have solved the turnover problem. He didn’t have one for the first time Oct. 29 against the Vikings in London, and followed the bye with his best game last week in the loss to the Lions, which featured only a late interception with the outcome decided.
But he’s thrown a league-high 14 interceptions — he didn’t see Smith cut across the field after a play-action fake in the first quarter and sailed the ball over receiver Rashard Higgins’ head in the fourth — and has lost four fumbles.
Jackson still believes Kizer has what it takes to become a franchise quarterback.
“Oh, no question. After the first interception … it takes heart to keep coming back in there and throw a huge touchdown to Duke (Johnson) a drive after that,” Jackson said. “The guy did not blink at the end, and he was getting knocked around pretty good. That is something to build on for him.”
“He’s a tough kid. He’s going to be a great player one day,” Drango said. “There’s a learning curve, and he’s doing a heckuva job to step up and lead the team.”
For the moment, Kizer wasn’t concerned with the big picture.
“It’s not about trying to become some franchise (quarterback) or any of that stuff,” he said. “It is about winning a football game.”
Kizer went 16-for-32 for 179 yards, the 27-yard touchdown to Johnson down the right seam, two interceptions and a 51.4 rating. For the year, he’s completed 52.5 percent with five touchdowns and a 54.0 rating.
“The big statement from this game is that once again I get paid to be a professional passer,” he said. “Today, I missed a couple of throws and I can’t miss those.”
He hasn’t been helped all season by an underachieving and inconsistent run game. Against the Jaguars’ ferocious front four, the offensive line didn’t do him any favors.
Drango couldn’t keep up with Ngakoue’s speed around the edge, and he finished with 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Fowler and Malik Jackson added a sack apiece, and Cambpell had a half-sack.
The setting was perfect to commit to the run. The Jaguars did, the Browns couldn’t.
Jacksonville entered with the league’s top rushing attack and ran 44 times for 139 yards, a 3.2 average. Rookie Leonard Fournette handled the cold just fine, carrying 28 times for 111 yards.
The Browns countered with a 2.8 average. Kizer led the way with five rushes for 22 yards.
“We need to find a way to keep running it,” Drango said. “We’ve just got to find a way up front to make some holes for the backs to hit ’cause if they see one, they’re going to hit it and make a big play out of it.”
The Browns have six games left to avoid joining the 2008 Lions as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history. They lost defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah to a broken foot, and he’ll join Thomas and outside linebacker Jamie Collins on the sideline for the rest of the season.
Jackson harped on the youth of the roster and the inherent inconsistency and reiterated things have to be perfect to win a game. But he made it clear that remains the No. 1 priority in another rebuilding season.
“I’m never going to take losing OK,” he said. “I am trying to win. These players are trying to win. This sport is too tough, too violent.
“We just do not make enough NFL plays to win the game.”