Had Mike Pettine not needlessly wasted a timeout on the final offensive possession for the Kansas City Chiefs, the Cleveland Browns certainly would've had a better chance at finishing a final drive with a touchdown to pull a Week 16 upset.
The Chiefs entered with an eight-game winning streak and postseason hopes on the line, while the Browns were eliminated from the playoffs long ago. Yet with less than a minute remaining, Cleveland had a chance to play the role of spoiler and drive the field for a game-winning touchdown.
But when the Browns converted a fourth down that put them in the red zone with less than 10 seconds remaining, Johnny Manziel and the Browns offense couldn't line up quickly enough to spike or run one final play.
After a turnover on downs with just under three minutes remaining, the Browns had two timeouts as the Chiefs took over on offense. Pettine burned the first timeout with 2:50 remaining in the game after Charcandrick West was stopped for no gain. On second down, West managed a 5-yard gain and Pettine used Cleveland's last timeout with 2:45 remaining.
The final offensive play for the Chiefs was a 1-yard pass play from Alex Smith to Travis Kelce, that allowed the clock to reach the two-minute warning before a punt on fourth down. But if Pettine hadn't used the timeout after second down, the Chiefs would've been forced to run a third-down play and the clock would've reached the two-minute warning before a punt on fourth down, regardless.
It's not hard to figure out what Pettine was thinking. The Chiefs were attempting to wind the clock and a timeout kept the Browns from watching 40 seconds tick away after second down. But the timeout only delayed those 40 seconds from disappearing until after third down. An incompletion by Kansas City would've validated Pettine's poor choice, but Smith threw a safe screen pass to Kelce that was easily completed to keep the clock moving.
That put the pressure on the Browns offense to drive 70 yards in 1:52 for a game-winning score.
"It was very difficult because they were leaning into us and wouldn't let us get out of bounds," Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin said after the game. "They knew we didn't have timeouts so everything was inbounds. We just wasted seconds and wasted opportunities. I figure if we had a little bit more time or one or two more timeouts, we would have won the game."
In two seasons with the Browns, Pettine has posted a 10-21 record. The team has fallen from 7-9 in 2014 to a tie for the NFL's worst record in 2015 at 3-12. He has drawn criticism for his handling of Manziel, with some inside the organization reportedly feeling as though he punished the quarterback just to "exert his presence" as head coach. Pettine also has a history of poor clock management that goes beyond a Week 16 loss to the Chiefs.
"It is a challenge, and it is very difficult coming from a coordinator standpoint," Pettine said earlier in December. "It's hard for a coordinator to manage the clock. Most of the clock management decisions come on offense. It's very difficult when you're calling plays to have that awareness so you need that voice in your ear."
Aside from his mistake against the Chiefs, here are a few other costly clock management errors by Pettine:
Week 12 vs. Ravens (Nov. 30, 2015)
At the end of November, the Browns lost after a 50-yard field goal attempt against the Ravens was blocked and returned for a touchdown. It wasn't Pettine's fault that Browns quarterback Austin Davis decided to slide in bounds and waste clock, but with 50 seconds left to drive into field-goal range, there were 27 seconds wasted between plays while Cleveland sat with two timeouts.
Week 6 vs. Broncos (Oct. 18, 2015)
Down 10-0 in the second quarter, the Browns got a stop against the Broncos with just over a minute remaining in the half. Despite still having three timeouts, Pettine allowed the Broncos to waste 40 seconds and set up a 51-yard field goal that was missed.
The Browns took over on offense with 18 seconds left in the half and Josh McCown threw an 11-yard pass to Duke Johnson that got Cleveland into Broncos territory. But with just nine seconds left, the Browns couldn't get into field-goal range in time and had to settle for a Hail Mary that was knocked down.
Week 5 vs. Ravens (Oct. 11, 2015)
The Browns had a 30-27 lead when a 32-yard pass play from Joe Flacco to Justin Forsett set up the Ravens with a first-and-goal with 1:22 remaining. The Browns had all three timeouts, but used none and allowed the Ravens to wind the clock to less than 30 seconds before Justin Tucker nailed a game-tying field goal.
With just 25 seconds to work with in regulation, McCown led the Browns into Baltimore territory but ran out of time before a field goal could be attempted. Instead, the game went to overtime where the Browns kicked a game-winning field goal to improve to 2-3.
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