CLEVELAND: Peyton Hillis sitting out the Browns’ come-from-behind win over the Miami Dolphins last week while stricken with strep throat remains an issue among his teammates, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Sunday NFL Countdown.
Schefter said some of Hillis’ teammates wondered whether he sat out the game, not because of “a 102-to-103 temperature” and “losing 10-to 12 pounds” to the illness, as Hillis said Thursday, but instead because of frustration with the Browns over not coming to terms on a new contract, as the team has with a handful of other players already this season.
After carrying the ball 10 times for 46 yards Sunday in the Browns’ 31-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Hillis addressed the report in the locker room.
“That shouldn’t be an issue,” said Hillis, the Madden NFL 12 cover boy whose contract this season pays him $600,000. “That’s not an issue in my brain. I’ll go out there and I’ll play. But if I know I’m not 100 percent and I can hurt my team, I’m not gonna risk myself.”
When asked about the report, coach Pat Shurmur said: “You would have to try to find out who is talking about that because it didn’t come from me. ... Peyton was sick. That was my understanding.”
Browns cornerback Joe Haden made plays all over the field Sunday, including breaking up two passes on third downs to add to the league-high six passes defensed that he had entering the game.
But Haden sprained his left knee in the second quarter. He was hurt when the Titans punted with 8:25 remaining in the first half. After the play, he limped off the field and was examined by trainers on the sideline but remained in the game until leaving in the fourth quarter.
Haden was not made available to media after the game. Instead, a team employee gathered his clothes and other belongings from his locker. Haden later wrote on Twitter that he will have an MRI today.
“This bye [week] couldn’t come at a better time for him to heal up and be ready for Oakland,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, whose 10 tackles Sunday led the Browns. “I hope everything works out for him and he’s healthy enough to play. But I know he’s a tough kid, and he’s going to work extremely hard to get back. We just have to see as the week progresses.”
Browns center Alex Mack lost his cool in the fourth quarter when he was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul for throwing a punch at Titans defensive lineman Karl Klug.
As a result, the Browns lost a chunk of yards and the down. However, they rebounded to score a touchdown on fourth down, when quarterback Colt McCoy connected with tight end Benjamin Watson on a 10-yard scoring pass.
“We got in a little scuffle and I tried to get my hand away and I bobbed him on the face mask,” Mack said. “Luckily, we were able to come back as an offense and score a touchdown on that drive, so I won’t be killing myself all night long.”
Shurmur said wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi injured his shoulder during a late fourth-quarter incompletion that left him without a helmet after he was tackled.
As a shirtless Browns linebacker Scott Fujita spoke to reporters in the locker room after the game, it was impossible not to notice a huge, irritated, bright red welt that stretched down the left side of his rib cage.
“That did not feel good in the shower,” Fujita said of the injury. “Getting in the shower was the worst part of my day today.”
Asked how he suffered the injury that could leave one nasty scar for years to come, Fujita said: “I tackled [running back Chris] Johnson on a play and when I was top of him, someone like ran on my back and their cleats hit my back. I thought my rib cage had been busted open. At least my ribs aren’t broken.”
Case of the dropsies
Browns running back Montario Hardesty ran the ball seven times for 22 yards, but also was one of Colt McCoy’s receiving targets. In the first quarter, Hardesty recorded a 27-yard catch, but then went on to drop four other passes tossed right to him.
“I’m very disappointed with some plays I didn’t make on the field,” Hardesty said. “I had three or four dropped balls. I need to make those plays, get up field and keep us in better situations.”
Offensive lineman returns
Browns right tackle Tony Pashos played in his first regular-season game since Oct. 17, 2010, when he suffered a season-ending right ankle injury. Pashos injured his left ankle in the preseason and missed the first three games of this season.
Pashos, who was flagged for a false-start penalty in the second quarter, admitted the Browns struggled to find much offensive rhythm.
“Everybody had something that cost us,” he said. “I had a penalty. We did good things as a line, then we regressed. That’s just how it is. We’ve gotta sustain drives to score. That’s the name of the game.”
First things first
Phil Dawson’s 48-yard field goal with 6:48 to go in the first quarter marked the Browns’ first first-quarter points of the season.
But the Titans responded on their next possession with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Craig Stevens three minutes later. Those were the Titans’ first points of the season in the opening quarter.
With the Browns facing fourth-and-1 with 6:08 remaining in the second quarter, Shurmur caused some eyebrows to be raised when he not only went for it, but also called on little-used third-string running back Armond Smith to make the crucial play. Smith was stuffed for no gain by safety Michael Griffin, and the Browns turned the ball over on downs at the Tennessee 41-yard line.
“The safety came down and rotated,” Smith said. “The receiver didn’t have the leverage, so I decided to take it up for the 1 yard. The safety came down, and I tried to get the first down. Tough play.”
Rookie wide receiver Greg Little recorded career highs with six receptions for 57 yards.
“We started so much faster than we have the first three weeks, and that was good for us,” Little said. “The weeks before that we were a great team in the second quarter. So once we get it all jelled together, we’ll turn it around. No problem.”
Wide receiver Josh Cribbs also tied a career high with five receptions, a figure he’s reached on three occasions. He gained 50 yards with his catches, including a long of 16 yards.
Titans running back Johnson got off to a slow start but was finally able to pad his rushing stats and pick up his first 100-yard game of the season (101 yards on 23 carries) thanks to the Titans owning such a big late lead and running the ball much of the fourth quarter.
Rookie quarterback Jake Locker also made his NFL debut late in the fourth quarter. His job was a relatively easy one: repeatedly hand the ball to Johnson before being forced to throw a pass on third down that resulted in an incompletion.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.