ATLANTA — It felt all too familiar for Nick Chubb.
A close game in the fourth quarter. The Browns, with him doing the bulk of the work, getting their running game going.
Unfortunately, it also ended with a familiar result, as the Browns let one defensive slip-up open the door for the Atlanta Falcons to hand them a 23-20 setback.
“At the end of the day, we have to find a way to win,” Chubb said. “We had opportunities to punch it into the end zone from the red zone. We had opportunities to end the game, but we just didn’t do it. From that, we just have to learn from it and keep moving forward.”
There’s not a far-fetched reality where the Browns are moving forward into the teeth of their schedule at 4-0. They’re legitimately two plays, only two plays, away from such a reality.
The problem for the Browns is that, instead of 4-0, they’re 2-2. Instead of coming home from Georgia celebrating the fast start to which virtually everyone said they needed, they’re once again lamenting the way it all went wrong in the end.
The end is the only thing the Browns care about, though. They know that one or two plays is all it takes to flip the results of a game in the league.
“The NFL is a game of margins,” defensive tackle Jordan Elliott said. “It’s really small margins. … We gotta continue to iron out things, and we’ll do that.”
The path forward starts with next Sunday’s home game against a Los Angeles Chargers team that is beat up in a lot of ways, yet also boasts one of the league’s top young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert. Then it’s a New England Patriots team with an injured Mac Jones, but also arguably one of the greatest coaches in league history still roaming the sidelines.
After that, well, the Browns aren’t about to start getting that far ahead. In fact, they’re not getting any farther ahead than what it is they have to do in order to fix the mistakes they made against the Falcons.
“Back to the basics,” linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said. “Set edges, fit gaps, get takeaways. We were negative-1 in turnover margin (against Atlanta). Just have to make sure that we focus on those things that we’ve focused on since camp — getting the ball out, interceptions, fitting our gaps and do the basics.”
The negative the Browns will take from Sunday is the loss. There’s other takeaways to be had, both positive and negative.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, David Bell provide more receiving help
The previous two games was the Amari Cooper Show for Browns receivers. Cooper, the four-time Pro Bowler, had put together back-to-back 101-yard receiving games against the Jets and the Steelers.
On Sunday, the cavalry came to help out Cooper. He was targeted just four times, fourth most on the team, with one 9-yard catch to show for the effort.
However, Donovan Peoples-Jones turned a team-high nine targets into five catches for 71 yards. The catches tied tight end David Njolu for the most on the team, while his yardage was two shy of Njoku’s 73 yards.
“I can’t take credit for what Donovan is doing out there,” Cooper said with a laugh afterward, “but, no, he’s an extremely well-prepared player and he works hard. He does that on his own. And he’s always ready when opportunities come his way. As you can see when they do come his way he makes plays.”
Beyond Peoples-Jones, rookie David Bell had arguably the best game of his rookie season. Bell was targeted three times, catching two passes for 35 yards.
Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt dazzle even when it doesn’t feel that way
Chubb finished Sunday with 118 yards on 19 carries. His 28-yard touchdown run gave the Browns a 20-17 lead with 9:51 remaining.
Kareem Hunt had 49 yards on 10 carries. That’s a solid 4.9 yards-per-carry average.
Yet, it was a day on which neither running back seemed to just provide the “wow.” That’s what makes both special — their ability to make the “wow” seem almost mundane.
It’s a trait that only the best of the best possess. That would be the Browns’ two running backs.
Cleveland Browns run defense disappears when it’s needed the most
All of the talk before the game was about Atlanta’s skill players in the passing game. All the talk when the game was over was about the Falcons’ running game, specifically about a running back — Caleb Huntley — who was on the practice squad last week.
Huntley finished with 56 rushing yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, which included eight carries on a fourth-quarter scoring drive. Tyler Allgeier finished with 84 yards on 10 carries, including a 41-yard run that set up a tying field goal with 7:19 left.
The Falcons ran for 202 yards on 35 carries for the game. That included 172 yards on 25 second-half runs.
“We don’t want that to be us,” linebacker Jacob Phillips said. “We don’t want that to be our identity that people can run on us, so obviously we came back, we were able to make an adjustment on the front and limit those plays. But I think we did a good job not finger pointing, took it on the chin and we were able to get better the next series as far as the run game.”
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On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism