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Browns find another strange way to lose

November 14, 2011
By ED PUSKAS - Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor ( , Tribune Chronicle |

CLEVELAND - Somewhere late Sunday afternoon, Dwayne Rudd had to be smiling. Nine years later, the journeyman linebacker might finally be off the hook.

Until Sunday, Rudd was the easy answer to this question:

Name the craziest, most inexplicable, sickening loss in Cleveland Browns history and the player most responsible for it. Yes, this requires a lot of thought, because few NFL teams seem to lose games the way the Browns lose them - with one improbable, seldom- or never-before-seen scenario after another.

Years ago, there was Red Right 88, The Drive and The Fumble. After the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, there was Bottlegate, a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars during which fans reacted to an overturned Browns touchdown by pelting the field with beer bottles. There also was a game in Chicago in which the Bears scored two touchdowns in the final 28 seconds to force overtime, then returned an interception for a score to win it.

Now, there is The Snap.

But until Sunday, when a so-called "chip shot" field goal went terribly wrong late in a 13-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams, Rudd had been part of the most infuriating loss in team history.

On Sept. 8, 2002 at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Rudd had Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Trent Green in his grasp and threw him down for what he thought was a sack as time expired. Rudd, thinking the game was over, tore off his helmet and hurled it 15 yards downfield.

But Green had already flipped the ball to tackle John Tait, who ran 28 yards to the Browns' 25-yard-line. The Chiefs then got 15 more yards thanks to an unsportsmanlike penalty on Rudd and moments later Morten Andersen kicked a 30-yard field goal to give Kansas City a 40-39 victory.

But these being the Browns, the odds favored something coming along to top it sooner or later.

But there isn't one easy goat to blame for this one. Like a lot of Cleveland losses, there is more than enough blame to go around. Most of the talk will be about Ryan Pontbriand's snap on the potential game-winning field goal hitting left guard Alex Mack's right leg and rolling to holder Brad Maynard.

Maynard did a great job of getting the ball down for kicker Phil Dawson, but by then the timing of the entire play - which was supposed to be a simple 22-yard field goal - was irreparably damaged. Dawson, already moving through his kicking motion, tried to slow the process, but wound up pushing the ball wide left.

The Rams then took over and ran out the last two minutes as another game at Cleveland Browns Stadium was completed in front of thousands of empty orange seats.

Blame the offense for not scoring a touchdown against one of the NFL's worst defenses. The Rams held the Browns to four field goals by Dawson.

Blame coach Pat Shurmur for getting conservative when the Browns had first-and-goal at the St. Louis 8. Shurmur called three running plays into the center of the line, with one of them inexplicably going to tight end Alex Smith, who was playing fullback. Smith fumbled and Joshua Cribbs recovered, but only - as it turned out - to give the Browns another opportunity to lose.

Blame Cribbs for fumbling a punt with the Browns leading, 12-10, early in the fourth quarter. The Rams recovered at Cleveland's 27 and eventually kicked a go-ahead field goal with 7:42 to play.

But the Browns (3-6) moved into position for a go-ahead score, getting all the way to the Rams' 8 before Shurmur hit the brakes and began playing for a field goal.

In theory, it was the right move. Dawson might just be the best kicker in the NFL. There is certainly no better outdoor kicker. Dawson was 4-for-4 in the game and 16-of-18 on the season before The Snap.

Pontbriand blamed himself.

"It was an inopportune time and I pretty much cost our team a victory," he said. "It is pretty tough to handle. I need to be perfect."

There was talk of movement on the line either from the Browns or Rams that might have caused Mack to jump out of his stance early.

"I'll have to look at the film," Mack said.

Dawson has seen some weird endings in his 13 seasons in Cleveland, but even this was new for him.

"It was a short field goal and I'm thinking 'get it off quick,' " he said. "The trade-off, any time you do that, is that if anything is slightly off, you will have no time to react. I'm going fast, the ball is deflected at the line of scrimmage and by the time Brad gets it down - it was a tremendous hold by Brad - I am pretty much past the ball and I'm trying to somehow dig it up ... It is just a tough way to end things."

This defeat will stick with Shurmur for a while, especially if he is unable to turn this team around and eventually goes the way of Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini. This defeat could be the one Browns fans remember most from Shurmur's tenure.

The first-year coach was visibly angry during his postgame news conference, especially when questioned about playing for a field goal and the botched handoff to Smith.

"He knew he was getting the football," Shurmur said. "We have to execute it. ... We tried to hand him the football and he dropped it."

And the field goal?

"We were in a position to score points," he said. "Our defense was playing extremely well and I wanted to make sure we were going to get an opportunity to kick and go ahead, so that's what I chose to do."

In theory, it's what you do. But these are the Browns, easily the most star-crossed NFL team of their generation.

Even Dawson knew a short field goal - not much more than an extra-point - isn't a sure thing.

"If you've ever kicked, you know there is no such thing as a chip shot," he said.

Not for the Browns.



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