By Tony Grossi
In the Browns’ locker room, the emotions were anger, frustration and exasperation.
The rigors of an exhausting 23-20 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys took their toll on most. They were depleted in their ranks and disgusted with the officiating.
And though it was the team’s eighth loss in 10 games, one veteran player who usually suffers losses terribly made a somewhat surprising observation.
“That was some great football -- with what we had,” said return specialist Josh Cribbs. “As much as I could complain about another loss, another game we should have won, we battled that team up and down.
“We don’t have a team of Pro Bowlers and we don’t have a Hall of Fame coaching staff, but we have a team. You can be mad with another loss. But you don’t see any quit in this team.”
The remark about the coaching was a shot at the offensive coaches with whom Cribbs sparred this week. Cribbs said he met with coach Pat Shurmur before the team departed Cleveland and now sees “eye to eye” with him. Cribbs said the comments Cribbs made about not being involved enough in the offense had no impact on the chemistry of the locker room.
As for Cribbs’ choice of words in the phrase “with what we had,” the Browns were down to bare bones in the secondary after starting the game without Joe Haden (oblique) and then losing Buster Skrine (concussion) in the fourth quarter. In the critical moments of the game, the Browns’ cornerbacks were Sheldon Brown, Trevin Wade and Johnson Bademosi.
As a result, the secondary was under attack consistently when Dallas quarterback Tony Romo carried his team back from a 13-0 deficit in the second half.
The Cowboys were awarded an amazing 10 first downs on Browns’ defensive penalties. Seven of them were called on the Browns’ secondary – three on Skrine; one interference and two illegal contacts; two on Brown, one illegal contact and one big 35-yard interference; and two on safety T.J. Ward, an interference and a roughness for a hit to the helmet with receiver Kevin Ogletree in a defenseless position.
These excessive penalties were a gift to Romo, who struggled badly and was sacked seven times. Playing from behind throughout and without no running game, Romo wound up throwing 50 times, completing 35 for 313 yards and one touchdown.
“Maybe a couple (were fair),” Ward said of the penalties. “But not as many as they called. I mean, what are you supposed to do when a receiver is pushing you? They are not going to call that. Sheldon got pushed in the end zone (on Bryant’s TD in the fourth quarter) and they didn’t call that. I feel like we were playing one-handed out there.”
Brown also was victimized on the play of the game in overtime.
After the teams traded punts on each’s first possession, the rules reverted to sudden death. With the Browns’ punt, Dallas’ Dwayne Harris evaded Bademosi, the extraordinary gunner, and returned it 20 yards to the Browns’ 48.
After one first down, Romo fired for Miles Austin slanting over the middle. Brown said he pried the ball loose after Austin took two steps. Safety Usama Young recovered the fumble, but the officials waved off the play as an incomplete pass.
In overtime, coaches cannot challenge a call, but Shurmur used a timeout for the replay official to consider it. Sure enough, the game was stopped and referee Ed Hochuli went under wraps to view a replay. But he emerged within seconds to announce that a pass ruled an incompletion is not reviewable.
“Nine times out of 10 when the guy catches the ball and runs, it’s a fumble,” Brown said. “But I thought a lot of calls were kind of crazy today. I mean, I understand that we may have had some calls on our secondary that went against us. But I don’t think their secondary had any calls. So you are telling me that their secondary is playing clean?
“You can’t be aggressive. You can’t do certain things. It’s tough.”
Given a reprieve, Romo moved the Cowboys 12 more yards in three plays to set up Dan Bailey’s 38-yard game-winning field goal with 6:07 left in the game.
The winning kick concluded an exhausting fourth quarter, which ended with the Browns losing their game-long lead, regaining it on a Brandon Weeden 17-yard TD strike to Ben Watson, and then allowing a tying field goal. The final two scores occurred in the last 1:07 of regulation.
The Browns built a 13-0 lead on a 10-yard catch by Watson between three defenders in the end zone and two field goals by Phil Dawson. The score didn’t reveal how much the Browns dominated play.
That changed, of course, in the third quarter when the Browns’ offense went into comatose state. They punted on their first two possessions, then lost the ball on the next two on fumbles by Trent Richardson and Weeden.
Right after Weeden’s fumble, however, the Cowboys returned the favor when Frostee Rucker stripped Romo and linebacker Craig Robertson recovered. Weeden took the Browns all the way to the Cowboys’ 1.
On third-and-goal, Richardson vaulted and was met head-on and moved back for a 1-yard loss. After a timeout, Shurmur called for the long-forgotten fade pass. Weeden overthrew tight end Jordan Cameron, who caught it out of bounds with 1:23 to play.
The Browns forced a quick punt deep in the Cowboys’ end. Cribbs returned it 21 yards and another 15 were tacked on when Dallas’ John Phillips was called for a horse-collar tackle, even though replays showed he pulled Cribbs by the hair, which is legal.
Weeden then took the lead right back with his TD pass to Watson.
“We’re not getting it done late,” said Weeden (20 of 35 for 210 yards and two TDs). “I don’t know why. You can’t look at this team and say we don’t fight. But nothing can replace winning.”
Richardson was despondent. He carried 28 times for 95 yards and led the Browns with six catches for 49.
“I don’t think I did enough out there,” he said. “I left a lot of yards out there today.”
By losing to the Cowboys, the Browns temporarily dented the hopes of Mike Holmgren of coaching in Dallas next year. The win evened the Cowboys’ record at 5-5 and kept them on pace for an NFC playoff spot.
Before the game, Holmgren had a prolonged conversation on the field with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as photographers circled the two men.
“We had the visit that we always have when he comes or when I come to where he is. We’re good friends,” Jones said. “Apart from being an outstanding coach, he’s a heck of a man. He’s got a lot of character and I can’t tell you how much I respect him.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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