The 2014 Cleveland Browns have now played four different games that ended on a last-second field goal. They are 2-2 on such occasions. They have been blown out by two sub-.500 teams from the AFC South. They rank in the bottom half of the NFL in team defense (DVOA), and team offense (weighted offense). They have suffered a rash of injuries to key players, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Their starting quarterback just threw three of the most inexplicable interceptions you will ever see in a game, prior to leading an equally head-scratching game-winning drive. He ranks 32nd in the league in completion percentage (55.9%). That’s right, Geno Smith, Kirk Cousins, Mike Glennon and Derek Carr all have higher completion percentages than Brian Hoyer.

It is, then, impossible to explain how the Browns are 7-4, especially when you consider a series of events like the one we are here to talk about. Said events illustrate two other problems the Browns have: Billy Cundiff is a bad kicker with absolutely no range, and head coach Mike Pettine does not seem to have figured this out.

Trailing 14-13 with just under a minute remaining in the first half on Sunday, the Browns started a drive at their own 20-yard-line. They moved the ball all the way to Atlanta’s 42 before finally burning their first timeout, with just three seconds remaining. Pettine had let precious seconds tick away on at least two separate occasions during this drive, forcing his team to eventually settle for this 60-yard field goal attempt by Billy Cundiff:

CundiffOneGIFDon’t worry, though, folks: Mike Smith was not content being the second-worst head coach in the Georgia Dome on Sunday, so he called a timeout prior to the snap, meaning Devin Hester would not get to take that ball 109 yards the other direction, and Mike Pettine would get to change his mind and send his offense back out there to instead attempt a Hail Mary. Because we all know what happens when you send a group of offensive linemen, a punter, and a kicker onto the field to defend a dynamic kick returner bringing it out of his own end zone. It looks something like this:

So, yeah. You wouldn’t do that, Mike, would you? I mean, we just saw Billy push that one out to the right and about five yards short, didn’t we? Mike…?


Just crazy. Completely bizarre that the second field goal attempt would be worse than the first, especially considering that Cundiff’s career long is 56 yards (IN 2005 NO LESS), and he has connected on exactly 29.6% of his field goals that measured 50 yards or more during his not-so-illustrious career. But you know what? According to Pettine, Cundiff came over to the sidelines between the two attempts and told him that he “pulled off the first one a bit” because he knew Smith was going to call a timeout. And Pettine believed him!

You know what makes me even more upset than Pettine stupidly thinking Billy Cundiff can kick field goals he may or may not be able to kick in practice? The fact that Pettine did exactly one thing to counter the SLIGHT POSSIBILITY that the all-time greatest kick returner in NFL history would have a chance to return Cundiff’s impending miss: he replaced one of his linemen with a tight end. That’s it. And then he noted these “personnel changes” in his postgame press conference.

These were the players on the field for Cundiff’s first attempt:

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From left to right: Billy Winn (DL), Mitchell Schwartz (OL), Paul McQuistan (OL), Ryan Seymour (OL), Christian Yount (LS), John Greco (OL), Joe Thomas (OL), Joel Bitonio (OL), Jim Dray (TE), Spencer Lanning (P), and Billy “Bigfoot” Cundiff (K).

This was the “personnel” on the field for the second field goal attempt:

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From left to right: Jim Dray (TE), Mitchell Schwartz (OL), Paul McQuistan (OL), Ryan Seymour (OL), Christian Yount (LS), John Greco (OL), Joe Thomas (OL), Joel Bitonio (OL), Gary Barnidge (TE), Spencer Lanning (P), and Billy “Bigfoot” Cundiff (K).

So, Barnidge came in for Billy Winn and Jim Dray moved over to the right side. I think it is important to note that there is a very good chance Billy Winn is actually faster than Gary Barnidge. He is certainly better at tackling. But regardless, in case you did not know this: seven 300-pound white guys, two tight ends, a punter and a kicker are a fool-proof method for tackling a full-speeded Devin Hester.

Well, what happened, you ask? Did they not tackle him? We already watched, and yes, Hester sprinted around all of those slow dudes, turned the corner, and was somehow contained long enough by Lanning and Cundiff that rookie Joel Bitonio was able to blind-side Hester into the ground, thus ending the half. I find it hard to believe that is the way Pettine drew it up when he substituted Barnidge for Winn.

If Bitonio had not made that tackle, we would be having a much different conversation today. Pundits would be decrying Pettine’s decision to essentially launch a kick-off in Devin Hester’s direction with a coverage unit made up of large, immobile players. And if the Browns had not pulled out a miraculous, last minute, game-winning drive to beat the Falcons, we would be talking about how Mike Smith somehow out-coached Mike Pettine, or how all three of Brian Hoyer’s interceptions were either terrible decisions or terrible throws, or both (Hoyer’s ineptitude is a story for another time, though). And maybe we should be talking about these things. Maybe we should be talking about how the Browns are extremely fortunate to be 7-4. Maybe we should be talking about Billy Cundiff’s inability to kick field goals that are not chip shots.

Maybe I need to shut up and enjoy the ride. Who knows?