CLEVELAND: With the San Diego Chargers facing a deciding fourth-and-10 on the Browns’ 44-yard line and the game on the line, cornerback Buster Skrine made the kind of play that can lead to fans forgetting past mistakes.
Skrine was able to come off his man and tip Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers’ pass before it reached its intended receiver, effectively ending the game.
He needed a positive play, and it just happened to come at the most opportune time for the Browns.
Skrine had been picked on time and time again by opposing quarterbacks in recent weeks, particularly by the New York Giants’ Eli Manning. He has been thrust into the lineup after Joe Haden’s four-game suspension and injuries to Sheldon Brown and Dimitri Patterson. With the exception of quarterback Brandon Weeden, perhaps no player has benefited more from playing with a short memory.
“You just grow as a player game-by-game,” Skrine said Sunday. “You can’t simulate a game in practice, and I’m getting more experience, getting good reviews from my coaches, and I feel like I’m doing a good job.”
Skrine thinks he has played well since the Giants game, covering the Cincinnati Bengals’ Andrew Hawkins and then the Indianapolis Colts’ Reggie Wayne when lined up in the slot.
The clutch play Sunday was the cultivation of the work Skrine had put in and the confidence he never lost.
“[Confidence] is never an issue,” Skrine said Friday. “It runs in the family. If you’re a Skrine, you got confidence … I consider myself tough. I’ve always been tough. It’s just been part of my character.”
Many outside the organization expressed serious doubts about whether he had what it takes to play in the NFL after that tough stretch of games. That wasn’t the case in the Browns’ locker room, where he had full support.
“He’s a fighter; Buster’s a fighter,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “We’ve always been behind him. We’ve never thought there was a problem. He’s a young player in this league that could learn a lot from this week and moving forward.”
On Skrine being criticized, Browns coach Pat Shurmur said: “Not by me. Buster is a guy I’ve always thought challenges. … Those are defining plays when you get a team stopped [on] fourth-and-10.”
Cornerback Joe Haden says Skrine has the talent, speed and make-up to be a solid player in the league. On Sunday, it finally shined through in the right moment.
“He’s a hell of a football player and I’m just glad that he was able to show it today in the clutch,” Haden said. “He’s gonna be so good. … He has all the ability in the world. He’s faster than everybody on the field. So just him being able to go out there and show what everybody in the locker room already knew, it means a lot.”
Skrine said Friday that he won’t back down from any challenge that comes his way. Sunday provided quite the test. At 5-foot-9, he often drew the matchup against Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who’s listed at 6-foot-4. Gates was largely a non-factor and had only two catches for 14 yards.
“That’s one of the best tight ends in the league, and Buster held his own,” Haden said. “Even though he’s small, he’s got the vertical, being able to just latch on him and do his thing.”
Skrine has been beat up and bullied by opposing quarterbacks. He was thrown into the lineup far earlier than one would have expected before the season. And he’s endured several weeks of negativity. Still, he didn’t bat an eye while talking about containing one of the better tight ends in football.
“I’m up for any matchup,” Skine said. “Coaches trusted that I could do it. So, I think I did pretty well.”
Many in the Browns’ locker room knew he would, past mistakes aside.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.