Refs don't win games and refs don't lose games. It's a mantra I repeat throughout the sports year. That the Detroit Lions got the benefit of every pivotal call in their victory over the Cleveland Browns certainly didn't help the hosts, but the Browns didn't do themselves any favors after taking at 17-7 lead into the halftime break. With the spotlight on quarterback Brandon Weeden, the second-year man trying to save his NFL career threw what had to be one of the worst passes I've seen from any QB at any level.
Yes, it really was that bad.
Browns lose to Lions: First bad call
Cleveland appeared to have Detroit stopped in field goal range halfway through the first quarter when cornerback Joe Haden made a great play to break up a pass in the end zone. The referee closest to the action didn't see it that way, however, flagging Haden for interference. Replays seemed to show that Haden had timed his actions perfectly, but the flag wasn't picked up, and the Lions ultimately scored the first touchdown of the game.
Make no mistake about the fact that such a call impacts a team for more than just a single play. It affects how defensive players cover their targets for the remainder of the contest. The referee in question also gifted Detroit with a positive four or even seven-point swing. Cleveland very well could have been up 18 points after two quarters.
Browns lose to Lions: Blown opportunity
Weeden had the Browns marching down the field in the final minute of the first half when he fired a deep pass down the left sideline for play-maker Josh Gordon. Gordon failed to reel in what was a catchable ball, and Cleveland had to settle for a field goal. The Browns may be better than many thought they would be, but they certainly aren't good enough to be leaving points on the field. Nobody can say for sure that it would have changed the outcome of the game, but 21-7 breeds different emotions than does 17-7.
Browns lose to Lions: Second questionable call
Cleveland was trailing by four points and facing a second down with 25 yards to go when Weeden floated a pass down the right sideline for Greg Little. Little out-jumped his defender, caught the ball, got one foot down clearly in bounds and then seemed to drag his second foot down in play. The pass was ruled incomplete, and the call was upheld. What could and arguably should have been third and one was instead third and 25, and any momentum the Browns could have had from such a highlight reel grab was lost.
Browns lose to Lions: Weeden at his worst
Neither Weeden nor the Browns can blame the referees for the play that ensured the Lions would leave Cleveland victorious. Weeden was flushed out of the pocket halfway through the four quarter after driving the Browns into Detroit territory, and, instead of grounding the ball or taking the sack, the Cleveland QB tossed the ball nearly straight up into the air. Linebacker DeAndre Levy had all day to position himself for his second interception of the game, a turnover that took the Browns out of the game.
Weeden was far from perfect against Detroit. He had, up to that point, been solid, finding the end zone twice and only making one inexcusable error. With that said, there is never a time where what Weeden did in that situation is acceptable. Never. That one pass is the type of play that gets a quarterback benched regardless of who is his backup.
Instead of silencing his critics, Weeden instead gave them more ammo.