If Rudd just keeps his composure, the Cleveland Browns win their season opener.
Instead, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Rudd allowed Morten Andersen to kick a chip-shot 30-yard field goal with no time remaining, giving the Kansas City Chiefs a gift 40-39 victory Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"I'm sick," said Browns coach Butch Davis. "For us to fight as hard as we did to put ourselves in position to win and then to have something like that happen at the end is inexcusable. To lose our composure and get a stupid penalty like that when you've got the game won is tough."
The senseless penalty spoiled a what should have been a game-winning field goal by Phil Dawson, who booted a 41-yarder to put the Browns ahead with 29 seconds remaining, a breakout game by Browns wide receiver Quincy Morgan, who caught nine passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and a poised performance from quarterback Kelly Holcomb, who was 27-of-39 for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns in just the second start of his six-year career.
Rudd thought the game was over when he launched his helmet 15 yards down the field. The veteran linebacker believed he had sacked Trent Green at the Chiefs' 47-yard line. With Green landing on his facemask, however, Rudd could not see the quarterback lateral the football to right tackle John Tait.
Rudd stood up, ripped off his helmet and fired it towards the west end zone. Little did he know, the 6-foot-6, 323-pound Tait was rumbling towards the south end zone. Browns safety Devin Bush shoved Tait out of bounds at the 25-yard line, apparently ending the game.
"I thought it was over. I thought we had won, but then I saw the flag on the ground," said Bush. "I had a feeling it was not going to be good."
Bush's fears were confirmed when referee Ron Blum signaled the personal foul against Rudd. The penalty moved the ball half the distance to the goal line, setting the stage for Andersen's field goal.
Rudd made no excuses for his mental lapse.
"It was a good call," said Rudd. "I thought he was down. When I tackled him, he rolled over on my facemask. I looked up and saw triple zeroes on the clock and thought the game was over, but I didn't get a chance to look behind me and see the game wasn't over. I shouldn't have taken it off because that is against NFL rules."
While Rudd admitted his mistake, he did point out that if not for the Browns' poor play on defense, the Chiefs never would have been in position to win in a miracle finish.
"We gave up 37 other points and made more mistakes than we could overcome," said Rudd.
One of those mistakes was another poor decision by a Browns player who could not control his emotions. After Dawson's 41-yard field goal put the Browns ahead 39-37, holder Chris Gardocki was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The call for taunting could just as easily gone against Dawson. Gardocki and Dawson were both seen jawing with Chiefs players.
"Before and after the play, both teams were talking back and forth," said Gardocki. "Other than last year's Chicago and Jacksonville games, this was the most shocking outcome to a game I have played in."
An alley-oop touchdown at the end of regulation and an interception in overtime snatched a last-second victory from the Browns in Chicago last year. A few weeks later, a controversial use of instant replay led to a heartbreaking loss to the Jaguars and Browns' fans shelling the field with beer bottles.
"It's too early to say it's the same old story," Butch Davis said. "Clearly, we have to be able to play defense in the last four or five minutes of every single ballgame to give ourselves a chance to win."
The Browns defense was dreadful in the last four or five minutes Sunday. It was just as dreadful in the first 55 or 56 minutes.
"Everything was bad," said Browns cornerback Corey Fuller. "We didn't make any plays. We didn't do what we are supposed to be capable of doing ... We didn't stop them in the running game. We didn't stop them in the passing game."
After taking a 36-31 lead on a 44-yard touchdown pass from Holcomb to Morgan, the Browns defense watched helplessly as the Chiefs waltzed down the field 74 yards on just six plays, taking a 37-36 lead on a 7-yard touchdown run by Priest Holmes.
The score was the third by Holmes in the fourth quarter and his fourth of the game. Holmes finished with 122 yards on 22 rushing attempts.
The Browns were just as powerless to stop the Chiefs passing game. The Browns chose not to blitz Green, instead relying on the front four to generate its own pass rush. They could not, and Green proved that if you give any pro quarterback all day to throw, he will pick you apart. The 9-year veteran completed 20-of-29 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown - a 17-yard pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez in the first quarter.
The only bright spot for the Browns defense was Daylon McCutcheon's interception on the game's first possession. McCutcheon returned the pick 24 yards to the Chiefs' 6, setting up a 20-yard field goal by Dawson.
"Today the offense carried us and put us in position to win the game and we just didn't make the plays on defense," said Butch Davis. "Games are won and lost on the number of bad plays you commit and we sure had our share of bad plays.
"We've got to get our act together defensively ... We've got to play better because we've got way too much talent on defense for the way we played today."
That talent includes 2000's No. 1 overall pick Courtney Brown at defensive end and 2001's No. 3 overall pick Gerard Warren at defensive tackle. That duo combined for just four tackles against the Chiefs.
The Browns offense did its part. Morgan caught a pair of touchdown passes, including a 33-yard pass on a reverse throw from fellow wide receiver Kevin Johnson.
Dennis Northcutt reached the end zone for the first time in his three-year career on a 43-yard bomb from Holcomb in the second quarter. Rookie Andre Davis also caught the first touchdown pass of his career - a 4-yarder from Holcomb that gave the Browns what appeared to be a commanding 27-14 lead with 7:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Holcomb's three touchdown passes eclipsed his career total. In six seasons, he had thrown just two touchdowns before Sunday.
"It is really frustrating because you go out there and give it your all and put up all those points and lose," said Holcomb, who started in place of the injured Tim Couch. Everyone was talking about the defense and not the offense (being the team's strength). Our offense showed that we can put up some points. It is just frustrating to lose any game, but this is even harder."
Quincy Morgan was just as frustrated after his career day. Prior to Sunday, his nine catches were four more than any game in his rookie season. His 151 yards almost doubled his previous career best.
"It's bitter, not sweet," said Morgan. "We lost. Like I have said before, I would rather have one catch and win the game than have the game I had and lose."
Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil understood the pain in the Browns' locker room.
"We were very fortunate to win," said Vermeil. "I have won and lost games like this before in my career, so I know how it feels ... I feel bad for Cleveland because I have been on that side where I have lost games that I had no business losing. To win next week, we have to play better."
Tim Couch said his right elbow is feeling much better and claimed there is a 90-percent chance he would start against the Bengals next week ... Browns right tackle Ryan Tucker left the game in the first quarter with sprained left knee and did not return. He will be evaulated Monday at the Cleveland Clinic ... Dawson made 4-of-4 field goal attempts, extending his consecutive field-goals made streak to 19 dating back to last season. That is good for second place all-time in Browns history behind Matt Stover, who made 23 in a row ... The Browns are now 26-24 (.520) in season openers ... Holcomb completed passes to seven receivers and set career highs for attempts (39), completions (27), touchdowns (3) and longest pass (44 yards).
David Carducci also provides Browns coverage for the Ravenna Record-Courier. This story appears by permission of the Record-Courier.