CLEVELAND -- The comedy of errors that has become the Cleveland Browns 2011 season continued Sunday.
In the 10th week of the season, the Browns lost to a 2-7 team that lost five players during the game. The Browns lost because they botched a snap on a chip-shot, game-winning field goal. They lost because they fumbled a punt return that allowed the St. Louis Rams to kick a game-winning field goal. They lost their third in a row and fifth of six in a train-wreck kind of way that had to have fans smashing their foreheads into the wall.
"Embarrassing," said Josh Cribbs, whose fumble with 10:39 left set up the field goal that gave the Rams a 13-12 lead.
The Browns most reliable players made big errors. Cribbs fumbled, and then when they drove to the Rams four yard-line long snapper Ryan Pontbriand could not do the one thing he is hired to do -- successfully snap the ball to the holder. Cribbs and Pontbriand are both among the best in the league at what they do, but not Sunday. Not for the Browns.
There were other issues, of course. The Browns moved the ball and successfully ran some trick plays -- including an end-around, double-pitch that resulted in Colt McCoy throwing to backup quarterback Seneca Wallace for 21 yards. McCoy had one of his better games, throwing for 218 yards and completing 20-of-27. Running back Chris Ogbonnnaya ran for 90 yards on 19 carries.
But the Browns never got in the end zone, settling instead for four field goals from Dawson. And at the end when a touchdown would have made a win a near-certainty, the Browns and coach Pat Shurmur didn't even try to throw in the end zone.
"It's embarrassing that we can't (score touchdown)," Cribbs said. "I don't have an answer for you."
The Browns final series brought many questions, and Shurmur showed the strain of losing in every word. Start with the missed field goal, which at 22 yards should have been automatic for Dawson. Counting his four makes against St. Louis, Dawson was 16-of-18 this season prior to the last kick -- and the only misses were blocked.
But Dawson missed this one because Pontbriand's snap dribbled back to holder Brad Maynard. By the time holder Brad Maynard got it down, Dawson was past the ball and his attempt to make the kick was wide left. TV replays showed the snap hit the right leg of left guard Alex Mack, but that happened because Pontbriand appeared to double-clutch on the snap, which messed up the timing.
Dawson said he thought a penalty should have been called -- either offsides on the Rams or a false start on the Browns. He complained to the ref, who said they had a guy watching. Bottom line: the double-clutch threw off the timing, which led to the ball hitting Mack, which led to a bouncing snap, which led to Dawson missing.
"In a game-winning type kick you know they're bringing all 11," Dawson said. "And it's a short field goal. So my thought process was, ‘Quicker tempo to the ball … just get the dang thing up and out of here.' Because they're bringing the heat. The reason you don't do that every time and take blocks out of the equation is what you saw. If anything, the slightest thing, goes wrong, and you're too quick to the ball there's just no time for adjustment."??"Just the perfect storm on that one."
"Something hit my foot," Mack said. "I don't know what it was or why or what happened. We're going to have to watch the film."
Was the timing on the kick OK?
"We're going to have to watch the film," he said, a statement he repeated again.
"I take responsibility for all the snaps," Pontbriand said. "They need to be perfect and it wasn't perfect."
The Browns played for the field goal, thinking that Pontbriand and Dawson had been so dependable a short kick would be automatic. Shurmur never threw once the Browns got to the Rams 19. Down 13-12, Shurmur bypassed throwing in the end zone and called six runs in a row -- three once the Browns had first down at the Rams 8. In some ways it's the classic second guess. Throw an interception and everyone cries to kick the field goal. But since the field goal was botched …
"We were in a position to score points," Shurmur said. "Our defense was playing extremely well. I wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to kick a field goal and go ahead. That's what I chose to do."
"Touchdown, field goal, we were in good position to win that game," tight end Ben Watson said.
The Browns were fortunate to be able to try the kick. Two plays earlier, McCoy and Alex Smith had botched a handoff but were fortunate Cribbs recovered.
Smith was playing fullback, and the handoff seemed surprising. Smith is a backup tight end who has never taken a handoff in seven years in the pros or in college. But Smith said he was in the game because two plays earlier Owen Marecic was dinged after a run. Smith heard the Browns call for a fullback, so he went in. It just so happened the playcall had already been sent in, and it was for him to take a handoff.
"I should be able to do that," he said.
Earlier in the game, Shurmur called timeout when he saw the wrong personnel on the field, but this late in the game nobody wanted to stop the clock. McCoy said he had to run the play that was called. Asked if he had the option to change it given Marecic was hurt, he said "No."
Shurmur took questions before the media talked to Smith. The coach was asked his thinking on giving the ball to Smith. Clearly to him it was simple handoff to a fullback.
"Come on now," he said. "We tried to hand him the football and he dropped it. That's the thinking. For the moment that it was in there, that's what happened. We got to do a better job."
"There are so many things that happened in that game. Missing the kick, dropping the .. there were a lot of things. There was a lot of good. There was a lot of bad.
"And I promised everybody that I would be genuine from day one to the last day, and I'm genuine right now in saying that. We can focus on what we want to focus on, but we lost the game. That's genuine."As he said the word "lost," Shurmur pounded the podium, clearly showing the anger and strain of a botched game.
He wasn't the only one showing that strain.
"I just leave with a helpless feeling," McCoy said. "It's tough. It's tough. We had our opportunities and we should have won the game, more than one time. You just kind of scratch your head and wonder where all of this bad luck is coming from and why."
He added that something great may be coming when all bad luck runs out. But at this point, that something seems a long, long way away.