By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: If fans wanted coach Rob Chudzinski to verbally blast referee Jerome Boger’s officiating crew after reviewing video of the 27-26 loss the Browns suffered Sunday against the New England Patriots, they’ll need to find something else to put on their holiday wish lists.
Less than 24 hours after the debacle, Chudzinski flat-out refused to blame controversial calls for the Browns wasting the 12-point lead they built with 2:39 remaining.
“We’re just not going to operate that way,” Chudzinski said Monday during a news conference. … “Anything can happen in a game, and it did yesterday. We have to make the plays and take advantage of the opportunities we have to win those kind of football games.”
Chudzinski knows some questionable calls, especially the pass-interference penalty rookie cornerback Leon McFadden drew with 35 seconds left, cost his team in crunch time. He argued with officials on the sideline about the call, and he still isn’t happy about it.
But the bottom line is the Browns (4-9) still would’ve stunned the Patriots (10-3) had they been able to properly execute a basic special-teams play by recovering an onside kick. And the penalty on McFadden would have never been called because the game would’ve been over.
Instead, Stephen Gostkowski’s onside kick deflected off Browns running back Fozzy Whittaker, and Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington recovered at Cleveland’s 40-yard line with 1 minute left. The recovery stood after a replay review, and two plays later, the officials charged McFadden with a 29-yard, pass-interference penalty with which Chudzinski still disagrees upon further review. Quarterback Tom Brady then threw the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Danny Amendola with 31 seconds left.
After the game, Whittaker insisted he didn’t intend to go after the ball during the onside kick. He thought Gostkowski touched the ball earlier during the play as he ran beside it, so he tried to hit Gostkowski and free a teammate to recover.
Regardless, the ball ended up hitting Whittaker right in the gut, and he failed to secure it.
“His initial assignment is to block, and as [the Patriots] all converge and break out of the formation, it’s to go for the ball,” Chudzinski said. “My understanding of what he saw was he thought Gostowski was catching the ball or touching the ball and he went after Gostowski at that point.”
The Patriots had six players lined up to Gostowski’s right and four to his left before the kick. The Browns didn’t have anyone in the middle of the field, which is exactly where Gostowski kicked the ball. Before the kick, Browns running back Chris Ogbonnaya raised his hands in the air and looked at his teammates as if he was confused. He shuffled toward the middle of the field and then back.
Still, Chudzinski said all of his players were aligned properly before the ball was kicked. He said they also used the right technique when the Patriots aimed for the middle.
“As the kicker approached the ball, and they all started coming inside, we slid it in as we needed to,” Chudzinski said. “When you first start in that alignment and in that particular formation, if the ball is kicked outside, which is the typical type kick when you see it, you block and one guy is pretty much designated as the guy who is going to handle the kick. On the middle bunt, which they’ve shown before and done before, as they start coming in and their guys start covering into the middle, we slide and go, and you go get the ball in that case. It was a great kick by Gostkowski for that type of kick, and we had an opportunity and we just weren’t able to come up with the ball.”
By the way, the Patriots started the onside kick at the 50 instead of their 35 because rookie safety Jordan Poyer was flagged for unnecessary roughness after hitting wide receiver Julian Edelman in the back of the end zone as he secured a 2-yard touchdown pass that trimmed the Browns’ lead to 26-21 with 1:01 left.
Chudzinski said the officials told him Poyer made contact with Edelman’s head. A replay from CBS’ telecast shows Poyer used his right shoulder to hit Edelman in his right shoulder and chest area. Chudzinski said, “it was hard to see.”
As for McFadden’s penalty, he and Patriots wide receiver Josh Boyce used their hands to slightly jostle while McFadden ran behind Boyce into the end zone. A deep pass from Brady went through Boyce’s hands, and an official threw a flag.
Not to mention Chudzinski won both of his challenges. One gave the Browns a first down after running back Willis McGahee was credited for a gain of less than a yard when he really picked up 2. Another negated an 8-yard completion to Edelman, who lost control of the ball as he went to the ground. Also, Brady talked the officials into picking up a flag thrown for intentional grounding in the first quarter.
When asked if it was the worst officiated game he has seen, Chudzinski said, “I wouldn’t say that.”
So even though Chudzinski doesn’t agree with some of the calls, he’s not using them as excuses. He also sees the silver lining despite the bad breaks.
“We had opportunities to win the game and weren’t able to capitalize on them and close the game out,” Chudzinski said. “Experience is a great teacher for a team, and the things that we can take from this game and build on are that we can go toe-to-toe with anybody in this league. I see the light and am encouraged by our team and how they continue to work and move forward and build on the things that we’re doing.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.