ATLANTA — One big breakdown by the Browns defense gave the Atlanta Falcons exactly the opening they needed to pull off a 23-20 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.
An issue that had gone away for at least one game reappeared for the Browns at a most inopportune time. With Atlanta backed up on its own 9, facing second-and-10 in a tie game with less than three minutes remaining, Falcons receiver Olamide Zaccheaus found a wide-open gap in the secondary that he turned into a 42-yard reception.
With an additional 15 yards tacked on after Denzel Ward was flagged for a facemask penalty, the ball moved to the Browns 34. The Falcons ended up with a 45-yard Younghoe Koo field goal with 2:28 remaining.
Defensive breakdowns on big pass plays nearly sank the Browns on opening day against Carolina. It did sink them in Week Two against the New York Jets.
Now, it has the Browns leaving Atlanta at 2-2 with two huge home games coming up.
Opening drive impressive for Cleveland Browns, until it isn't
The first six times the Browns snapped the ball on Sunday couldn't have gone better. They went 77 yards to get to the Falcons 3.
To do so, Jacoby Brissett completed his first four passes for 66 yards. That included a couple of really nice play fakes and bootlegs on the first two passes.
The problem for the Browns was the next two snaps, which netted minus-1 yard. That included a fourth-down throwaway by Brissett that gave the ball to Atlanta at its own 4.
Atlanta Falcons show off their playmakers in the first quarter
It took four total plays for the Falcons to showcase their three biggest offensive playmakers: Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Pitts and Drake London. Along the way, they also allowed quarterback Marcus Mariota to showcase his own abilities.
Patterson carried the ball six times over the Falcons' first two possessions, including a 13-yard touchdown run to give them a 10-0 lead with 1:20 remaining in the first quarter. Mariota found Pitts on his first throw of the day for a 25-yard gain, while London had a 10-yard catch to put Atlanta in Cleveland territory on its first drive.
The positive for the Browns was that they didn't allow those playmakers to make too many plays, at least in the first half. Pitts and London each were targeted three times each, but only had the one catch apiece, while Patterson had 25 first-half rushing yards on six carries.
Grant Delpit comes up with two big first-half plays.
Safety Grant Delpit came under some fire after the first two games for his role in the defensive meltdowns. He made two big plays in the first half Sunday to help keep the Falcons from doing more.
Delpit had a bruising hit on London in the end zone on a third-and-goal play on the first Atlanta possession. It forced the Falcons to settle for a 30-yard Koo field goal for a 3-0 lead.
On third-and-4 from the Atlanta 31 on the Falcons' third possession, Delpit blew up a screen pass intended to Pitts for force the game's first punt. The Browns turned that stop into a game-tying Cade York 29-yard field goal right before the half.
Jacoby Brissett may not be speedy, but he's effective
There's never going to be a comparison between Brissett and some of the more athletic and mobile quarterbacks in football history. That doesn't mean he hasn't found his way to being very effective running the ball when he needs to be.
Take the Browns' first touchdown of the day. The Browns faced a third-and-goal from the Falcons 4, trailing 10-0.
Brissett took the shotgun snap and looked to throw, but found no one. He stepped up a bit, pump faked, ran to the right and lumbered his way into the end zone for the score with 7:35 remaining
It was one of three keepers for Brissett in the first half alone. He also gained three yards on a fourth-and-1 from the Browns 29 to keep alive their game-tying field goal drive in the second quarter.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) October 2, 2022
Jacoby Brissett spreads it around in passing game
The previous two games, if Brissett threw the ball, it was pretty much going to Amari Cooper. If it wasn't Cooper, then it was going to David Njoku, at least against Pittsburgh.
That wasn't the case against the Falcons. Njoku was targeted early for a couple of big catches, but Brissett spread it around a little bit more than the previous two games.
Donovan Peoples-Jones was targeted as much as anyone, including on a 42-yard completion to the Falcons 1 to set up the York game-tying field goal. Harrison Bryant also emerged as a favorite for Brissett, especially in little sit-down routes in the middle of the field.
David Bell also made a 15-yard catch on the field goal drive in the second quarter to leave the Browns in third-and-short.
Denzel Ward gets his first interception of the season
It was a day for Browns defensive backs who were hearing some noise over the first few weeks. Delpit came up with a pair of big plays in the first half, then Pro Bowl cornerback Ward made a huge one in the third quarter.
The Falcons had a second-and-7 from their own 32 when Mariota threw to London on a slant route. But Ward was right there step-for-step with the receiver, and he took the ball away for his first interception of the season.
The Browns turned the pick into three points, as York made a 45-yard field goal for a 13-10 lead with 3:06 remaining.
— NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2022
Caleb Huntley comes off practice squad to give Falcons a charge
Caleb Huntley was on the Falcons' practice squad when this week began. No doubt because of doubts surrounding Patterson's availability due to a knee issue, he was called up to the active roster for Sunday's game.
Huntley didn't get a carry until the first play of Atlanta's fourth second-half possession. He then got eight carries on that drive, gaining 54 yards, including the 5-yard touchdown run to give the Falcons a 17-13 lead with 12:51 remaining.
That one drive made Huntley the leading rusher for Atlanta through that drive.
Bad snaps twice help Browns limit Atlanta to field goals
The Browns allowed the Falcons to twice get first-and-goal situations inside their 10. Both times, though, a bad snap to Mariota helped them to avoid giving up touchdowns.
The first was on the Falcons' first drive, when Mariota had to pull in a high snap and ran out of bounds for a loss of two. A Koo field goal gave the Falcons a 3-0 lead.
After Tyler Allgeier's 41-yard run, plus a defensive holding flag, put the ball on the Cleveland 4, the Browns held Atlanta to a 21-yard Koo field goal to tie the score at 20-20. A big play in the series was a second-down high snap that Mariota just had to grab and throw away.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns lose game to Falcons on late Jacoby Brissett interception