Tim Couch's desperation, 50-yard touchdown heave to Quincy Morgan gave the Browns a miraculous 21-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars with no time left on the clock. Before taking the field Sunday in Alltel Stadium, the Browns had never even practiced the game-winning play.
With the final seconds ticking away and the Browns rushing to the line of scrimmage, Couch only had time to yell "jet" and motion thumbs-up to his four receivers. "Jet" means run down the field as fast as you can and pray for a miracle. It was akin to ordering his receivers to run towards the end of the playground and look back for the Nerf ball when they get to the trash can.
"I didn't have time to get everyone situated, so I was giving everyone go-routes, and basically saying everyone go deep," said Couch. "It was just like schoolyard football where you count down the clock and just throw one up."
The Hail Mary win combined with Pittsburgh's shocking home loss to the expansion Houston Texans pulled the Browns (7-6) to within a half-game of the Steelers for first place in the AFC North Division with three games left to play.
In Butch Davis' two seasons as coach, the Browns have made a habit of playing in games with bizarre finishes that have featured helmet tosses, Hail Mary's and controversial instant-replay decisions. Under Davis, 16 of 29 games have been decided in the final minute.
"Yeah, just another day at the office," Davis joked, immediately after the game. "I don't really know what to tell you other than when you've coached 30 years, you think you've seen just about everything. Obviously, you haven't ... in light of what happened and how we won the ball game."
The clock read all zeros after Morgan out-jumped Jaguars' cornerback Fernando Bryant for the game-winning catch, but the drama was far from over.
First, the Browns had to endure a painfully long instant-replay review, after which referee Ron Winter ruled "there was no indisputable visual evidence" to overturn the score.
Davis admitted "there was a lot of praying" on the Browns' sideline during the review, but according to Morgan, the catch was never in doubt. In the back of his mind, Morgan had memories of last year's instant replay against Jacksonville. In that game, a catch by Morgan was overturned, the Browns lost and Cleveland fans bombarded the field with beer bottles.
"I've been here for two years, and we've been beaten like that three times," said Morgan. "I knew if it happens to everybody else, it could happen to us, too."
Jaguars' coach Tom Coughlin couldn't believe Winter let the touchdown stand after watching the replay.
"The ball was on the ground," said Coughlin. "I saw it on the ground. I cannot believe in the National Football League that call would be made."
Even more staggering to Coughlin was the fact that the Jaguars had single coverage on Morgan on the deciding play. With the 6-foot-1 Morgan owning three inches on Bryant, he had a clear advantage in a one-on-one battle for the jump ball.
"There's only one play (Couch) can make, and yet we are not back there," said Coughlin. "It's going to be the last play of the game. Where is he going with the ball? He has to throw the ball into the end zone. For whatever reason, we are not back there. We are not in position. We are the ones scrambling around instead of them."
The extra point to give the Browns the one-point win should have been an afterthought, but it only added to the suspense. Browns' kicker Phil Dawson had struggled all day, missing one field goal from 42-yards, having another blocked and hooking a kickoff out of bounds.
Dawson said he could feel his mechanics were off all day.
"I knew I couldn't kick the ball straight, so during the timeout while they looked at the instant replay, I just decided to play the hook," said Dawson. "I figured, play the hook, win the game, then go home and work on my mechanics next week."
Dawson hooked the ball inside the left upright for the deciding extra point, absolving the Browns' special teams of a dismal performance that almost cost them the game and their season.
In addition to Dawson's struggles, Chris Akins was flagged twice for illegal blocks in the back on punt returns and Lenoy Jones was called for an illegal block that negated a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Andre Davis. The main offender on special teams was punter Chris Gardocki, who shanked consecutive fourth-quarter punts of 24 and 28 yards - the latter setting the stage for a 33-yard field goal by Danny Boyd that gave the Jaguars a 17-14 lead with 2:32 remaining.
One minute after Boyd's field goal, the Jaguars thought they had sealed the game when linebacker Akin Ayolele intercepted Couch. The Browns' defense, however, rose to the occasion, giving the offense the second chance it needed.
With the Jaguars' owning a first down at the Cleveland 10 and just over a minute remaining, the Browns kept the Jaguars out of the end zone on three straight runs by Fred Taylor (23 carries, 145 yards), forcing them to settle for a 22-yard field goal and maintain just a one-possession lead.
"The real story of the game was the defense," said Davis. "I really like that they kept us in the ball game. They overcame bad field position. They overcame some of the turnovers ... Certainly, at the end, with that last little possession, when you throw the interception, a lot of teams just kind of fold their tent."
The Jaguars were out-gained 417-211. The Browns defense was especially impressive defending the pass, surrendering just 73 yards to Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell, who's lone highlight was 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Brady in the first quarter.
Rookie running back William Green also deserves credit for keeping the Browns in the game, rushing for 119 yards on 26 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7-7 in the third quarter.
After a 44-yard touchdown run by Taylor put the Browns back in the lead, Couch (21-of-35, 264 yards) and Morgan (3 catches, 118 yards) hooked up on their first scoring play of the day - a 60-yard touchdown pass to re-tie the game with 3:52 remaining in the third.