The long snapper is the most innocuous position on the field -- until there is a problem.
The Browns have a problem. A big problem.
Normally reliable Ryan Pontbriand seems to have gotten a case of the yips. It cost the Browns a win over St. Louis, and it cost them a chance to at least tie the Bengals on Sunday.
In both cases, Pontbriand dribbled a snap back to holder Brad Maynard, who did well to get the ball set.
In both cases, placekicker Phil Dawson had no chance to make the kick.
"I'm in a slump," Pontbriand said.
That's not good. Teams do not have a lot of patience with a slumping snapper, precisely because of what has happened to the Browns. A slump could mean a game, and in Cleveland's case, the slump has meant two games.
However, coach Pat Shurmur said Monday the team was not sure if it would make a change.
--Wide receiver Greg Little arrived with a defined reputation: He's a raw receiver with physical talent, but he can drop passes.
On Sunday in Cincinnati, Little lived up to that reputation. He caught a team-high five passes, but he also dropped five. Most were killers, as they stalled drives.
Little had a chance to have a big game, but he left the opportunity on the field as the ball slipped through his hands.
Little shows promise, but he clearly let the first drop or two rattle him. He managed to catch his first touchdown pass of the year, but he botched too many others.
--Running back Peyton Hillis was a surprise return to the lineup. Six days after being ruled out by coach Pat Shurmur, Hillis was on the field and leading the team in carries against Cincinnati.
Hillis' 19-carry, 65-yard day wasn't one for the record books, but it did get him back in the flow of the offense.
"I expect big things," Hillis said. "I expect to progress, and I'm looking forward to next week."
Hillis has missed the better part of six games due to strep and a badly pulled hamstring in a lost season, and Sunday he ran well straight ahead but seemed to have trouble moving laterally.
He should get better every week.
His problem is the opposition: The Browns play Baltimore and Pittsburgh the next two games.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Colt McCoy needed 34 throws to pass for 151 yards, but he also was victimized by at least six dropped passes, five by rookie WR Greg Little. McCoy also took another beating, and he threw a bad interception as he was hit. The Bengals believed the more McCoy was hit, the more rushed his throws. Drops happen, and McCoy had to put up with a lot. He did not do a lot to help himself in the game, either.
--S Eric Hagg was treated like a rookie by the Bengals, as time and again Cincinnati went to TE Jermaine Gresham for a play. Gresham made the catch on a 22-yard touchdown by simply outfighting Hagg for the ball. Hagg broke up a late pass, but the loss was a lesson for the young player.
--CB Joe Haden was assigned to cover Bengals WR A.J. Green all over the field, and Green came up with two huge plays that essentially beat the Browns. In both cases, Green used the smallest bit of separation from Haden to go up and get a high pass from QB Andy Dalton. Green's incredible athleticism allowed him to set up Cincinnati's second touchdown and the game-winning field goal.
--RB Montario Hardesty was expected to play a lot in Cincinnati, but he told coaches during warmups that he felt a twinge in the pulled calf muscle that had sidelined him. Hardesty did not play a down. The Browns have to be concerned that Hardesty is simply a guy who is prone to injury.
--WR Josh Cribbs had a tough game. He had no impact on the return game, dropped a late pass that was low but catchable and loafed through the last pass thrown by the Browns on fourth down near midfield. Because he didn't fight for the catch, the Browns turned the ball over.
--LB Scott Fujita will need surgery to repair two broken bones in his hand. Fujita has played well this season, and his leadership also has been important. Though the Browns did not say for sure, it sounds as if he could be a candidate for injured reserve.
REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Greg Little dropped five passes, Josh Cribbs another. Cribbs ran a lazy route on the Browns' last offensive play. Colt McCoy threw a bad interception and was hit far too many times. That was how the Browns turned a decent first half into a bad loss. In the second half, Cleveland did little, and McCoy wound up with just 151 yards passing because of the drops. Overall, a day that could have ended well -- the Browns twice had 10-point leads -- turned into a big downer.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Peyton Hillis' return could not jumpstart the running game. Hillis made surprising progress in practice and returned to play against the Bengals. But Hillis could only run straight ahead, and he averaged just more than 3 yards on his 19 carries. Hillis will get stronger as he gets back in game shape, but against the Bengals, the Browns might have been better off with a more even split with Hillis and Chris Ogbonnaya.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- NFL games are won by players who come through when it counts the most. Through much of the game, the Cleveland secondary fought hard against Cincinnati. But when it mattered most, the Browns let Cincinnati's receivers outplay them for key balls. A.J. Green did it twice to set up 10 points, and Jermaine Gresham did it to score. Green was marvelous. His late-game catch was a standout play by a standout player, and there were three Browns near him. Green made the key play. The Browns did not. Andy Dalton completed 21 of 31 for 270 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- Cedric Benson's 106-yard day was his second 100-yard day against the Browns this season. He also was the fifth back in the last five games to top 100 yards against Cleveland's defense. No team that gives up 100-yard games on a regular basis will win a lot of games. The Browns are 4-7 for a reason.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D-minus -- Once again, the Browns cost themselves a chance to win a game with a bad snap. Normally reliable Ryan Pontbriand bounced a snap on Phil Dawson's 55-yard field goal try with just more than two minutes left. Relying on a kicker to make a 55-yard kick can be a long shot, but Dawson has been clutch all season -- and he had converted a 54-yard kick earlier in the game. But Pontbriand's bad snap cost the Browns, just as his bad snap cost the Browns in the loss to St. Louis.
COACHING: C -- Pat Shurmur found a way to get the Browns a first-quarter touchdown. He also had the team in position to win the game on a field goal. It's not the coach's fault a snapper suddenly can't snap, but these are the kinds of things that happen to bad teams. They find a way to lose despite the best effort of everyone involved.