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Browns clown Vance Joseph's controversial fourth-down decision

Zac Stevens Avatar
December 16, 2018

DENVER — Down 13-17 with 5:29 left in Saturday night’s game, the Denver Broncos had the Cleveland Browns’ defense backed up on their own six-yard line.

Vance Joseph’s offense had flashed life, marching 69 yards on 13 plays and were faced with a 4th-and-1.

“I told our guys that — 4th-and-1, we’re going to go for it,” Joseph said on Nov. 19, one day after going for it on 4th-and-1 deep in the Los Angeles Chargers’ territory in a 23-22 Broncos win. “We’re trying to win the game. It’s as simple as that, and I’ll do it again.”

But it wasn’t as simple as that. And Joseph didn’t do it again.

Instead of playing for the win, as he described back in Week 11, Joseph settled for the points.

“I wanted points there,” the head coach simply said Saturday night. “We had about 4:35 to go in the game and one timeout and the two-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there, okay? If we don’t get points there, a touchdown has to win it. It was my decision. Take points.”

Additionally, the two plays before “absolutely” forced Joseph’s hand to take the points instead of being aggressive, according to the coach.

On 2nd-and-3 from Cleveland’s eight-yard line, Phillip Lindsay picked up two.

The next play, on 3rd-and-1, Lindsay was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

Afraid a similar result was in store on 4th-and-1, Joseph took the points.

“The third-down play didn’t look great. We had points,” Joseph explained. “Hoping we got a stop there, get the ball back and get a field goal to win. That was the thinking.”

Joseph’s decision to take the points worked initially as the Broncos pulled within a field goal to win the game.

But the decision to trust his defense backfired the very next play as Nick Chubb escaped for a 40-yard run, moving the Browns into scoring range and giving them four more downs to tick another set of 25 seconds off the clock.

“I trust our defense to get a stop the next drive and we didn’t. The first play was a big run — That was the biggest run of the game,” Joseph said, shifting the attention from his controversial decision to his defense.

As fate would have it, later that drive Cleveland was faced with a 4th-and-1 of their own.

Though the specifics were different, the situation was the same: Take the easy points — aka a field goal — or go for the kill.

Three minutes before, Joseph settled for the points.

With 1:53 left and up one point, Gregg Williams, the Browns interim head coach, went for the jugular.

“The big thing was, we came up here to win the ball game,” Williams said on his decision to go for it on 4th-and-1, not so subtly taking a shot at the Broncos’ decision to do the opposite.

“I don’t think anyone was ever worried about me not being aggressive. We came up here to win it. Offensively, we were going to win it right there. If not, defensively we’re going to come back and do it, pretty similar to how we finished the game on defense going all-out blitz. That’s the aggressive nature of this team. They accepted it very well.”

Williams not-so-subtle shot at Joseph’s decision didn’t stop there.

“Evidently, in their charts, they chose to go for the field goal in that situation,” Williams said, questioning Joseph’s fourth-down field goal.

Williams’ players took after their coach and took more blatant shots of their own at Joseph’s decision.

“I didn’t know what they were thinking. If it was me, I would have gone for the touchdown,” the 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett stated bluntly after the Browns 17-16 win.

There was more.

“We were absolutely surprised they went for a field goal, but hey, we aren’t complaining,” Jabrill Peppers, another 2017 first-round pick, said, not afraid to speak his mind freely after the win.

Conversely, and unsurprisingly, Joseph’s players had his back.

DaeSean Hamilton pointed to the fact Denver’s offense got one more shot to win it with 1:49 left in the game.

Domata Peko pointed to the countless chances the Broncos had to put the Browns away.

Will Parks laid himself on the line for his coach.

“That was a smart call. He believed in the defense. I would play for that coach any day of the week,” the safety stated, giving all his confidence to Joseph. “It was a great call. We got the ball back.”

Joseph’s quarterback, on the other hand, wanted to pull the aggressive card.

“I felt confident,” he said about the potential to go for it on fourth down. “I wanted to convert third down is what I wanted to do. But he felt like the defense would get a stop, we would get the ball back and they did. They got a stop and we got the ball back. I can’t complain because I had the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game. It’s all I can ask for.”

When the scoreboard ticked to zero, the Broncos came up one-point short.

Who knows what would have happened if they weren’t one-yard shy.


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