The Cleveland Browns have spent decades finding the most creative ways to lose games and leave their fans heartbroken, and Sunday's 21-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints was a prime example of that.
Rookie kicker Zane Gonzalez missed two extra points and a pair of field goals, including a 52-yarder in the final seconds that would have forced overtime. Naturally, most people pinpointed the blame on Gonzalez.
But as it turns out, Browns coaches and management actually need to shoulder the blame for this one. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Gonzalez was dealing with a groin injury on Sunday. In typical Browns fashion, they played the 23-year-old rookie anyway.
Turns out Browns' kicker Zane Gonzalez, who is losing Cleveland's kicking job this week, has been kicking with a groin injury that requires an MRI today, per source. Browns could reach an injury settlement with him or put him on waivers, injured.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 17, 2018
A groin injury would be extremely difficult for any kicker to play through, no matter the level of pain. The fact Gonzalez needs an MRI goes to show it's an injury that he should not have been playing at all. Why the Browns put him out there anyway is anyone's guess, but it's completely unfair to put that much pressure on a rookie kicker.
Coaching and management decisions like this are why the Browns haven't won a regulars season game in nearly two full years now. Had they put Gonzalez on IR and signed a veteran kicker in the meantime, there's a good chance they escape New Orleans with a victory.
The Browns have played better than anyone could have expected through the first two weeks. They fought to a 21-21 tie vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1, though Gonzalez had a game-winning field goal blocked in the waning seconds of overtime.
Cleveland's defense was excellent against Drew Brees and co., not allowing them into the end zone until mid-way through the fourth quarter. All was going well until Tyrod Taylor threw a late interception that set up New Orleans' go-ahead touchdown.
Blame Gonzalez all you want, but this is on Cleveland's coaching staff for putting him out there. Rookie kickers deal with enough pressure to begin with, and the team simply relied upon an injured first-year to help them win their first game since Dec. 2016.
Here's hoping another team will give Gonzalez a chance when he's healthy, because it'd be simply unfair for his career to end since he was forced to play injured in a losing effort.