BEREA: The Browns can run with anyone in the pack, but crossing the finish line is another story.
Since the start of the 2010 season, the Browns are 7-18 in games decided by seven points or fewer, according to STATS LLC. The 18 losses by seven points or fewer are the most by any NFL team during that span.
“We talk about finishing all the time,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Monday. “We talk about starting fast. We talk about fighting throughout, and we talk about finishing. We talk about that all the time.”
Yet the Browns (2-8) continue to routinely fall in nail-biters. Their 23-20 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday is the most recent example, and they’re now 1-5 in games decided by seven or fewer points this season.
“A tough loss like that rocks through everybody,” rookie free safety Tashaun Gipson said. “And I feel like if we can just settle down a little bit, start finishing games and everybody does their own job, I feel like those games will become wins and this thing will turn around.”
The Browns thought they finished when rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and tight end Benjamin Watson connected for a 17-yard touchdown to give the Browns a 20-17 lead with 1:07 left in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys, though, marched 66 yards with the help of a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on strong safety T.J. Ward and a 35-yard pass-interference penalty on Sheldon Brown to set up Dan Bailey’s successful 32-yard field goal with two seconds left.
The Browns’ defense then held the Cowboys in check during the first series in overtime and forced them to punt. The offense, however, went three-and-out. The Cowboys then took possession at the Browns’ 48-yard line, survived a controversial call when a pass to wide receiver Miles Austin was ruled incomplete — the Browns believe he gained possession and fumbled — and Bailey ended the game by making a 38-yard field goal with 6:07 left in overtime.
So how can the Browns start finishing?
“It comes with being comfortable in situations,” cornerback Dimitri Patterson said. “Most teams, if they were to finish, they make plays when they need to make them. Honestly, really the only way to make plays in this league is you have to have a high level of recognition, and that’s just going to come with experience.”
Out of gas?
Speaking of failing to finish strong, rookie running back Trent Richardson’s production fizzled after halftime.
In the first half, he had 16 carries for 62 yards and three catches for 31 yards. In the second half, he had 12 carries for 33 yards and three catches for 18 yards.
In the fourth quarter, he fumbled and recovered a yard short of a first down on third-and-5. On third-and-goal at the Cowboys’ 1, he was stuffed for no gain as he tried to leap into the end zone instead of following fullback Alex Smith’s lead block to the right. On Richardson’s lone carry in overtime, he ran for no gain.
Shurmur defended Richardson and said he didn’t run out of gas.
“I thought he did a lot of good things in the second half,” Shurmur said. “I don’t think he got tired. There were a lot of full-grown men going at it last night. That was a team pretty good against the run, as we all know. The guys stood toe-to-toe and we found a way to have some success.”
Shurmur declined to comment on two controversial calls: Ward’s unnecessary roughness penalty — the officials ruled he made contact with wide receiver Kevin Ogletree’s helmet — and the incomplete pass to Austin, which Shurmur argued was a fumble during the game. “A lot of thoughts, no comments,” he said. … Shurmur said Weeden played better Sunday than he did Nov. 4 in the Browns’ 25-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. “He threw two touchdowns passes and for the most part was pretty efficient,” he said. “And there is still plenty of mistakes in there, plenty of things he can do better.” … Last week in an interview with the Plain Dealer, wide receiver/returner Josh Cribbs voiced his frustration about his lack of involvement in the offense this season and said the coaching staff should be more creative to find ways to use him. When asked if he has a problem with Cribbs’ comments, Shurmur said, “I think I know Josh now, and I think I know what’s in his heart, and he’s just a competitive guy. And Josh and I talk frequently.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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.