EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Cleveland Browns were so out of sync in an embarrassing 27-10 loss to the New York Giants Sunday at Giants Stadium that the head coach and starting quarterback couldn't even get their excuses straight.
In bungling one of precious few scoring opportunities, Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia dropped a snap from center Jeff Faine on a 2nd-and-1 play just five yards from the end zone. And instead of scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter to cut into a slim 10-0 deficit, the Browns came away empty handed when Giants defensive end Michael Strahan fell on the loose ball.
So what happened?
"His hands, I guess, were sweaty and wet and he just said he never got his hands on the ball coming out from Jeff (Faine)," said Browns coach Butch Davis. "And it's a shame - I think (a touchdown) would have been a huge shot of confidence for our whole football team, to be able to put seven points on the board and tighten the gap a little bit."
According to Garcia, however, the fumble had nothing to do with sweaty hands.
"I'm the one on the field, and we just didn't have a good exchange between Jeff and myself," said Garcia. "It had nothing to do with the ball or my hands or anything like that. It's just unfortunate that we didn't have a clean exchange because that was a big moment in the game."
Faine had an even different perspective. According to the second-year center, the snap to Garcia was an issue all through the preseason. The reason: "I have longer arms than the center he had in San Francisco," said Faine.
Apparently that throws the timing off, "but I thought we had worked it out," said Faine.
Excuses, poor communication, and an inability to master even simple things like a quarterback-center exchange are a big reason the Browns have lost two games in a row since beating Baltimore in the season opener.
It's also a big reason why Davis was forced to admit, "unfortunately, we did not play very well in this football game."
That's an understatement.
Even after handing the ball over to the Giants at the 5-yard line, the Browns defense failed to keep the Giants pinned in the shadow of their end zone. A long 11-play, 95-yard drive, ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kurt Warner gave the Giants a commanding 17-0 lead with 6:03 remaining in the third.
The Browns did suffer some bad lock at the start of the Giants long drive when safety Robert Griffith was flagged for delivering a late hit on wide receiver Tim Carter. The punishing blow was delivered just a split second after cornerback Michael Lehan deflected a pass by Warner that should have been intercepted.
Instead of a 3rd-and-14 from their own 1-yard line, the Giants were granted a first down at the 16, and the drive was on.
"The ball got tipped," said Griffith. "The guy had his arms out when I hit him. If the guy catches the ball, then what happens? It was a big play. We had the momentum if we stop them on defense, and it was one of a few plays that could have turned the game around."
But even with that questionable call, Griffith wasn't making any excuses.
"That's not what lost the game for us," he said. "We just didn't play well."
One more error stole one yet another opportunity for a touchdown on the Browns next drive. This time, it was a holding penalty, officially levied against Browns wide receiver Dennis Northcutt, but only fellow wide receiver Andre Davis and tight end Aaron Shea were in the area when the flag was thrown.
The holding call negated a 49-yard touchdown run by Browns running back William Green, whose 91 yards on 15 carries were one of the few Cleveland bright spots. Instead of a touchdown, the Browns eventually settled for a 49-yard Phil Dawson field goal with 12:53 remaining in the game, cutting the Giants lead to 17-3.
The first Browns touchdown in two weeks - a 3-yard pass from Garcia to Quincy Morgan - finally arrived late in the fourth quarter, but by then, trailing 20-10 with just 3:09 remaining, the game was already out of reach. A failed onside kick followed by a 5-yard scoring run by Giants running back Mike Cloud with 2:02 to play sealed it.
Even with all the mishaps, Davis found some promise in the Browns second half.
"To be honest, I am encouraged by what our offense was able to accomplish in the second half," said Davis. "Although we didn't win the game and we didn't score, it may have been the best we have effectively pushed the football down the field. (Garcia) got back in the pocket, moved around when he had to, and he made some plays."
Garcia finished with 180 yards on 21-of-31 passing with one touchdown and one interception. And while those numbers might seem modest, they sparkle when compared with an ugly first half. Garcia opened by completing 7-of-14 passes for 58 yards, adding an interception on the final play of the half for a quarterback rating of 31.2. Combining his numbers from last week in Dallas, Garcia played six quarters with just 129 yards passing and an unsightly quarterback rating in the high teens.
Overall, the Browns offense totaled just 89 yards in the first half, while the Giants rolled up 221 total yards in building a 10-0 lead on an 8-yard touchdown run by Tiki Barber in the first quarter and a 43-yard Steve Christie field goal in the second.
Some of the Browns dismal first-half stats had to do with a game-plan that focused too much on lending help to emergency right tackle Joaquin Gonzalez, whose fourth pro start drew the unenviable assignment of blocking Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan.
"I think that we probably made some coaching errors, and I'll take full responsibility for all of that," said Davis. "In an attempt to try to help in the protections early in the ball game, we'd probably been better off playing as we did in the second half (when we) let every man fight their own war and not worry about who might need help and who needs to be chipped and a whole bunch of stuff like that. Inevitably it didn't help our passing game in the first half."
So much for the Browns week-long claims that improved depth on their roster could help them survive injuries to right tackle Ryan Tucker, tight end Kellen Winslow, defensive end Courtney Brown and defensive tackle Gerard Warren.
The disturbing list of injuries from last week grew even longer Sunday when starting linebacker Ben Taylor tore his quadricep during the game's opening drive. Taylor will have surgery that will most likely end his season Tuesday.