By Ryan Lewis
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: In their 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, the Browns ended up on the wrong end of three close calls, and all had major consequences.
Some in the Browns locker room weren’t satisfied with the decisions made by the officials. The 71,513 fans in the stands were irate.
One of the calls proved fatal for the Browns, down by seven points with 3:01 to play. On third-and-3 at the 31-yard line, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford attempted a short pass to Calvin Johnson that fell incomplete. But outside linebacker Quentin Groves hit Stafford, took him to the ground and was called for a roughing the passer penalty, which gave the Lions new life. Three plays later, Stafford hit tight end Joseph Fauria for a 10-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach.
Groves said he asked for an explanation and was told by referee Walt Coleman he speared Stafford, meaning he led with his helmet. Groves believed the hit was clean.
“To my knowledge, it was a clean hit. But to him it was a judgment call,” Groves said. “I thought it was a legal hit. I thought I didn’t go to the helmet. I thought I wrapped him up low, followed by every tackling quote, unquote protocol.”
But Groves still wasn’t upset.
“That’s his call. I can’t get mad at the refs. I can’t bad talk the refs,” he said. “I can’t just say, ‘He made the wrong call,’ because at the end of the day, it’s his judgment over my judgment. This is what he gets paid to do and he’s a professional, so I can’t get mad at that.”
When asked what he thought of the call, strong safety T.J. Ward said, “No comment.”
Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Browns faced second-and-25 at their 19-yard line. Quarterback Brandon Weeden fired down the sideline to Greg Little, who made an acrobatic catch and came down with control of the ball, but was ruled out of bounds. Little had appeared to pick up the first down.
Coach Rob Chudzinski quickly threw the challenge flag, believing Little had gotten both feet down inbounds. Replays showed Little’s left foot was clearly down, but it was close as to whether his right foot hit before the rest of his body landed out of bounds. The ruling on the field was upheld, and the Browns punted two plays later.
“I had a pretty good view of it,” Chudzinski said. “I thought he got his second foot down. Obviously, that’s why I challenged it, but he didn’t. We didn’t win the challenge, and they didn’t reverse it.”
Little, along with wide receiver Josh Gordon, left the Browns’ locker room without speaking to reporters.
Earlier in the game, with the Lions at the Browns’ 23 on third-and-1, Browns cornerback Joe Haden was called for pass interference on receiver Kevin Ogletree, giving the Lions a first down and prompting an animated reaction from several players and the crowd. Haden was called for pass interference on the next snap, and two plays later Stafford hit Fauria for a 1-yard touchdown.
Free safety Tashaun Gipson was sure that the first pass interference penalty was clean coverage.
“Good play, how they threw the flag is beyond me,” Gipson said. “No hands, no contact or anything like that, the first contact he made was on the ball. It’s not my job to critique the refs, but I absolutely say that it was a clean, clean play, and I was right there probably two, three yards away. That is my view, that is my opinion and I’m going to leave it at that.”
Right calls or not, inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said a football team can’t second-guess the referees every week.
“You can’t put it in the refs’ hands,” Jackson said. “Down the stretch we can’t sit here and say, ‘Well, if this call wouldn’t have happened, a different outcome would have happened. It’s up to those 11 guys on each side of the ball to get it done. Yeah, [there were] some tough calls. That’s this game.”
Bush breaks through
The Browns held Lions running back Reggie Bush to just 14 yards rushing on seven carries in the first half. That success didn’t carry over to the second half.
Bush gashed the Browns for a 39-yard run and an 18-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass on the Lions’ first drive of the third quarter. It didn’t get much better from there, as he finished with 78 yards rushing and 57 yards receiving to go along with the touchdown.
“There’s no doubt about it, he’s an explosive guy and he’s going to make a lot of plays on his own,” outside linebacker Paul Kruger said. “He’s just one of those guys you have to corral and make sure he doesn’t have too much space. I felt like we did that in the first half.”
Handling No. 90
Browns right guard Shawn Lauvao drew the task of blocking Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, one of the NFL’s most talented and notoriously dirty players. Lauvao thinks he held his own. Suh was twice caught offsides, prompted by the snap count. On one occasion, Suh crashed into Lauvao, resulting in a 5-yard penalty.
“I was just trying to play the victim,” Lauvao joked after the game.
Cornerback Buster Skrine and Gipson teamed up to make the defense’s biggest play of the game.
Late in the third quarter, Stafford tried to find receiver Patrick Edwards on a post route just short of the end zone. Skrine, running with Edwards, was able to tip the ball in the air and away from Edwards. Gipson easily came down with the interception and returned it 35 yards to the 30-yard line.
“Anytime you make a pick in the red zone, that is huge, it’s huge for the defense,” Gipson said. “That is a momentum-build for the team, hopefully killing their morale, but they just came back stronger and harder.”
The Browns offense couldn’t do anything with the extra possession, going backward on a three-and-out that ended with a sack and a punt.
Little fielded kickoffs. He had one return of 21 yards to the 16-yard line. ... Tight end Jordan Cameron, who had five catches for 65 yards, has the most receptions by a Brown in the first six games of a season with 38. ... Running back Chris Ogbonnaya totaled a career-high seven catches for 61 yards. ... The Browns and Houston Texans are the only teams to not allow a 300-yard passer or 100-yard rusher this season. ... Right outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (sprained left knee), wide receiver Charles Johnson, offensive linemen Patrick Lewis, Martin Wallace and Garrett Gilkey, tight end Keavon Milton and defensive end Billy Winn (quadriceps) were inactive for the Browns. Sheard and Groves were both questionable, though only Groves played. He returned from a high-ankle sprain suffered Sept. 15 against the Baltimore Ravens. Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo started in place of Sheard.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.