CLEVELAND — Brandon Weeden’s decision-making has been questioned throughout his brief NFL career.
One choice Sunday may haunt Cleveland’s quarterback until his playing days are over.
Weeden’s ill-advised, backhanded flip toward fullback Chris Ogbonnaya was intercepted by Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy with 4:36 left, and the Lions rallied for a 31-17 win.
The Browns fell apart in the second half and had their winning streak stopped at three.
With the Browns trailing 24-17, Weeden, under pressure and grabbed around the left ankle by defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, attempted to pitch the ball over Ogbonnaya’s head. Levy reached up and snared it in front of Detroit’s sideline, ending Cleveland’s comeback attempt.
“Just a boneheaded play,” said Weeden, making his first start since Week 2. “It’s on me.”
Weeden’s blunder wasn’t all that went wrong for the Browns (3-3), who led 17-7 at halftime but were outscored 24-0 after that by the Lions (4-2).
Matthew Stafford threw four touchdown passes — three to huge tight end Joseph Fauria.
Weeden was making his first start since Sept. 15, when he sprained his right thumb in a loss to Baltimore. While he was sidelined, Brian Hoyer led the Browns to two straight wins before sustaining a season-ending knee injury Oct. 3 against Buffalo.
This was Weeden’s second chance to prove he could be a long-term solution at quarterback. But one day before his 30th birthday, Weeden may have thrown it away.
“In that situation, you’re trying to make a play. You don’t want to hurt your team by taking an 8-, 10-yard sack,” Weeden said. “I tried to flip it as far as I could. Anytime you try underhand stuff, bad things happen.”
Weeden’s costly mistake put an exclamation point on a second half in which the Browns couldn’t find a rhythm on offense and couldn’t stop Detroit’s offense.
After the Browns held Reggie Bush to 14 total yards in the first half, the versatile running back gashed them for 121 in the second. Whenever he needed a big play, Stafford got the ball to Bush, who had a 39-yard run in the third and caught an 18-yard TD pass to bring Detroit within 17-14.
Stafford finished 25 of 43 for 248 yards. He completed eight passes to Kris Durham, who took over as Detroit’s primary target with superstar Calvin Johnson not himself because of a balky right knee. Johnson, who missed last week’s loss at Green Bay, had just three catches for 25 yards, but the Browns were forced to keep a watchful eye on “Megatron” at all times.
“If your playmakers are not making plays, you go to your other playmaker, which is Reggie Bush, and that’s what they brought him in for,” Browns linebacker Quentin Groves said. “He had our number today.”
Unlike the previous two weeks, the Browns didn’t get any breaks, either. A long pass by Weeden to Greg Little in the fourth quarter was ruled out of bounds, and Browns coach Rob Chudzinski lost a replay challenge of the call. Groves was called for roughing Stafford, giving the Lions a first down and setting up their final score.
After gaining a season-high 115 yards rushing in the first half, the Browns picked up just 11 after halftime as Detroit’s defensive front turned things around after being dominated early on.
“I give a lot of credit to Detroit,” Chudzinski said. “I thought they came out and took the game. Every time we looked and there was a play to be made, they made it. It seemed like every time they needed a play, Reggie Bush was there.”
Weeden wasn’t there when the Browns needed him.
Although he finished 26 of 43 for 292 yards and two TDs, his performance will be stamped by the botched flip.
“It all happened so fast. You’re trying to make a play. You want to be smart — don’t take the sack. But I’ve just got to fall on it,” he said. “Take the sack and move on. That play’s on me.”
NOTES: Browns WR Josh Gordon had seven catches for 126 yards. … Weeden threw an interception — also by Levy — in the first half, his first in 111 attempts. … Browns LB Jabaal Sheard missed his third straight game with a sprained left knee. He returned to practice this week but isn’t ready to play. … WR Travis Benjamin had a 45-yard run on an end-around in the first half. But the Lions did a great job against Benjamin on punt returns, holding him to minus-10 yards on three returns. He had 179 yards in returns against the Bills 10 days ago.