CLEVELAND: When Browns coach Pat Shurmur misspoke Sunday after his team’s 31-13 loss to the visiting Tennessee Titans, reporters chuckled. Shurmur, though, was not in a mood for lighthearted moments.
Trailing by 25 points heading into the fourth quarter, Browns quarterback Colt McCoy threw 27 passes in the final 15 minutes while trying to help his team rally. As a result, McCoy set franchise records with 40 completions and 61 attempts, breaking the previous marks of 36 completions by Tim Couch and 57 attempts by Brian Sipe.
In an effort to explain the high number of passes thrown by McCoy, Shurmur said: “Those statistics get screwed. Or skewed, excuse me. Is that what they call a Freudian slip?”
The news conference was interrupted by laughter. Shurmur let out a deep sigh.
“Oh, boy,” Shurmur said. “I’ll let you all laugh. I don’t feel like it.”
Who could blame him?
The Browns (2-2) entered the game with a chance to improve to 3-1 for the first time since 2001, but they never came close to making it a reality. Now they will stumble into their Week 5 bye with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths.
“From penalties to dropped balls to turnovers, to the defense giving up big plays, it wasn’t a group effort,” Browns middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “Call it how it is. We didn’t play well as a group.”
Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck earned bragging rights against his former coach, Browns President Mike Holmgren, by completing 10-of-20 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. Running back Chris Johnson had 23 carries for a season-high 101 yards as the Titans (3-1) paid tribute to their former offensive coordinator, Mike Heimerdinger, who died of cancer this past Friday.
The Browns scored in the opening quarter for the first time this season when Phil Dawson made a 48-yard field goal. The Titans struck back during the ensuing drive — tight end Craig Stevens was wide open in the end zone when he caught a 12-yard pass from Hasselbeck — and never trailed again.
Dawson’s 51-yard field goal cut the Titans’ lead to a point early in the second quarter. But Titans tight end Jared Cook beat the coverage of strongside linebacker Scott Fujita, caught a pass from Hasselbeck, broke free safety Usama Young’s tackle along the sideline near the Browns’ 45-yard line and scored an 80-yard touchdown with 13:59 left in the second quarter.
“I’ve made that play so many times,” Young said. “That’s why it’s so frustrating. … He ran through my tackle. I wish I had the play back.”
Later in the second quarter, the Browns gambled on fourth-and-1 at the Titans’ 41, but they failed to convert. Running back Peyton Hillis lined up at fullback, and McCoy pitched the ball to third-string running back Armond Smith. But Smith was stopped short of the first-down marker by free safety Michael Griffin.
“I think there’s a place to be aggressive, and I was trying to give us a little bit of a bump there,” Shurmur said. “[Smith is] a fast guy, fastest guy we’ve got, and we felt like if we got him to the perimeter it was a chance for a big play.”
The Titans, though, were the ones who made the big plays, as evidenced by their 21-6 halftime lead. In the final minute of the first half, Titans wide receiver Damian Williams ran into Browns nickel back Dimitri Patterson near the line of scrimmage. With Patterson knocked off track, wide receiver Nate Washington broke free, caught a pass from Hasselbeck and turned the completion into a 57-yard gain. During the next play, Hasselbeck threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Williams with 33 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
After kicker Rob Bironas made a 39-yard field goal to give the Titans a 24-6 advantage with 6:45 left in the third quarter, McCoy and Co. marched from their 18 to the Titans’ 29. The drive ended there when McCoy rolled to his right and absorbed a hit from cornerback Cortland Finnegan as he threw an interception into the hands of strong safety Jordan Babineaux. McCoy didn’t get off the ground in time to try to stop Babineaux during the latter’s 97-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“I should have thrown it away,” said McCoy, who had a career-high 350 passing yards. “I throw that ball away every time. I was just trying to make a play. It’s one of those things you learn from and you wish you could take back, but that was a dumb play on my part.”
The Browns’ offense eventually rediscovered its rhythm, but it was too late. McCoy’s 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson capped a 15-play, 69-yard drive with 11:36 left in the fourth quarter. Free safety Mike Adams picked off a pass from Hasselbeck during the next series, but the Browns never really threatened to come back.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.