BEREA - It was like being hit by a linebacker, with the exception it didn't leave any bruises on Trent Richardson's body.
Actually, it might have been a worse feeling because Richardson had to deal with criticism, something he can't control. The Browns rookie running back was asked about his tendency to try to dance around trouble instead of attacking it more aggressively.
"Me dance around the line too much?" asked Richardson, showing an expression of incredulousness. "Nah. Nah. I think I can make more smart decisions, but me dancing around too much, nah.
"First of all, to be a running back you have to see the hole and what you can do to make the right decisions and put your team in the best position to score. I'm out there running the ball. Everyone in the stands might see something different, but it's way faster and much more going on than everyone cheering and saying what he could have done."
Richardson was harder on himself than was needed when assessing the Browns' 23-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday. He rushed for 95 yards on 28 carries and added 49 yards on six receptions, but he failed to score on three runs from inside the Cowboys' 5, including a third-down leap from the 1.
The Browns, who trailed 17-13 at the time, eventually took a 20-17 lead late in the fourth quarter on a touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Weeden to tight end Benjamin Watson but eventually lost in overtime. Richardson took blame for the Cowboys' victory.
"They can put the game on me," Richardson said. "I'm going to man up to my mistakes. I messed up. That's what happens when you make decisions on the run."
That's an extreme way to look at the game. Richardson was far from the main culprit. When assessing blame, you start with 10 defensive penalties that resulted in Cowboys' first downs and work far down the list before reaching Richardson.
"I don't agree one bit," Weeden said. "He rushed for 95 yards. He played hard. I can see why he said it because he's that kind of guy. He's a competitor and a team player.
"We all made mistakes in the game that looking back we could have adjusted and that maybe would have allowed us to finish. It says a lot about his character to say it. I take more of the blame than he does."
Richardson is the first to admit that he needs to play better. No one knows how much two knee surgeries and a rib injury suffered early this season have affected him.
Richardson has rushed for 670 yards and five touchdowns on 180 carries. He has a team-leading 37 receptions for 289 yards and one touchdown.
"I left yards out there (against the Cowboys)," Richardson said. "I know on one play I could have kept going straight, but I tried to cut underneath him like he was overplaying the play, but I could have kept going because he didn't overplay the play. He played it just right. I have to make smart decisions."
One pre-draft take on Richardson was that the success he had at the University of Alabama was due to the dominance the Crimson Tide had against inferior opposition. It's similar to the criticism of a quarterback being the product of the system.
"I can still do the same stuff," Richardson said. "I just have to make smart decisions. Some of it might be on me for not being 100 percent yet. I did the same in college from high school and high school from little league. That's what got me here. If you all want me to switch up my game, I can't help you."
The lack of burst at the line is noticeable. Offensive coordinator Brad Childress cautions about making too much out of that criticism.
"It's not (important), especially when you run a zone-run scheme," Childress said. "You're trying to put offensive line blocks on linebackers at the right pace. It's not a sprint to the hole. We talk about smooth to the hole; speed through the hole. We don't want it to be a race to the hole because it wouldn't time up with what's happening in front of him."
Richardson can quiet the criticism by doing one thing: playing better.