Former Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown participates in a ceremony honoring Ernie Green and Clarence Scott at halftime during an NFL football game between the Browns and the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
CLEVELAND — On a day when Browns stars of the past such as Jim Brown and Eric Metcalf were in the house for alumni weekend and the Legends ceremony, possible stars of the future such as Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson failed to keep their fans in the seats and prevent this fledging team from tumbling to 0-3.
By the time Sunday's 24-14 loss to the Bills was over, Browns players were angry that the only late cheering came from Bills fans, and rookie running back Richardson was getting a pep talk at his locker from coach Pat Shurmur.
The loss marked the Browns' ninth straight dating back to last season — the longest streak in the NFL. It also dropped them to 0-3, which is the kiss of death in the NFL. Since 1990, only three teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-3. Trips to Baltimore and the New York Giants are next.
"Definitely [it's shocking]," safety T.J. Ward said. "I never thought we'd be 0-3. It feels terrible. It [stinks], especially to lose your opening three. [But] we can't let it steamroll on us. We've got to try to stop the bleeding — because we are bleeding right now."
Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, miffed that the Bills were able to whip up their large contingent into a frenzy at the end, spoke for many of his teammates when he said their game Thursday night in Baltimore can't come soon enough.
"I can't wait to get this nasty taste out of my mouth," Jackson said. "It stings right now, I'm not gonna lie. But we have a long season ahead, so we've got to move on from it."
The Browns — who started slow in all phases and spotted Buffalo a 14-point first-quarter lead — were unable to build on encouraging performances by Richardson and Weeden last week in Cincinnati, largely because of the Bills' formidable defensive line.
Weeden went 3-and-out on his first three drives, failed to hit the deep ball again, struggled to connect with his receivers, and was the victim of about four dropped passes. He hit Travis Benjamin with a 22-yard TD pass that closed the gap to 17-14 in the third, but he threw interceptions on his final two drives to thwart the comeback. He was sacked four times and finished with a 65.7 rating.
The Browns converted only three of their 11 third downs, and none of their five in the first half.
"You can't be 0-for-5 [on third down] in the first half and expect to win games," Weeden said. "We've got to start faster, and that's on us. You put yourself in a 14-0 hole, it's tough to dig out."
Richardson, who rushed for 109 yards last week, was limited to 27 on 12 carries. His longest run was the six-yard TD that pulled the Browns within 14-7 in the second. Jammed up in the middle, he bounced it out to the left. Afterward, Shurmur encouraged him.
"He just told me don't get down on myself, and that's strong coming from him," said Richardson, who met icon Brown after the game.
While the Browns began with three fizzled drives, the Bills — using three wideouts the entire game — scored on their first two for a 14-0 lead with 5:06 left in the first quarter. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who scrambled efficiently and threw three TD passes, hit T.J. Graham with a nine-yard score on his opening drive after Buster Skrine let him run free.
Next time up, Fitzpatrick connected on a short screen to C.J. Spiller, who sprinted up the left sideline untouched for the 32-yard TD. Ward attributed it to a miscommunication with Jackson.
On the first play of their next drive, Spiller was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury when Usama Young fell on him after a catch. The loss of Spiller — the NFL's leading rusher — proved no break for the Browns. Replacement Tashard Choice rolled over them for 91 yards.
Early in the second, the Browns had one of their many missed chances. The ball slipped out of Fitzpatrick's hand, and Juqua Parker recovered the fumble. Because the referees originally ruled it an incompletion, the play was blown dead. The Browns challenged and won, but started at their 20.
"That could've been six," Parker said. "It could've been game-changing."
Weeden got rolling on Richardson's TD drive, completing passes of 24, 18, and 14 yards. Trailing, 14-7, a wide-open Greg Little dropped an open third-down pass near midfield at the end of the half to draw the wrath of Shurmur on the sidelines.
Weeden missed a couple deep balls, not leading Benjamin enough once and overthrowing Jordan Cameron another time, but closed the gap to 17-14 when he found Benjamin for a 22-yard TD.
Early in the fourth, the Browns needed about 15 yards to position Phil Dawson for a tying field goal, but Weeden was sacked on third down. Buffalo produced the final margin when Stevie Johnson beat Dimitri Patterson on a nine-yard post.