By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
A shoulder injury seemed to put a damper on Browns wide receiver Greg Little’s best performance of the season Sunday in a 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens, but coach Rob Chudzinski indicated Monday during a conference call that Little isn’t seriously hurt.
Chudzinski said Little has a sprained shoulder and “there’s a good chance” he’ll practice Tuesday as the Browns (4-5) head into their bye week. Little is one of several injured players who’ll receive extra time to recover before the team’s next game Nov. 17 at the Cincinnati Bengals.
Little, who had a career-high seven catches for 122 yards against the Ravens, will also have time to ponder a lesson he received Sunday: The player who starts a fight isn’t always the one who gets into trouble.
As Little blocked Ravens strong safety James Ihedigbo at the end of a running play late in the first quarter, Ihedigbo put his right hand on the back of Little’s helmet and pushed his head down. Little shoved back, and Ihedigbo and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee pushed Little, causing him to fall onto his backside.
Ihedigbo then lunged toward Little, placed his hands on Little’s collarbone and neck area and drove him to the ground. Ihedigbo’s helmet popped off — Little might have yanked it off — as other players separated the two. Little emerged from the pile with Ihedigbo’s helmet and flung it, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with 1:16 left in the first quarter.
Screen shots of the television broadcast on CBS make it look as if Ihedigbo choked Little, even if he just pushed him down. A still frame of the melee circulated online Monday.
“I have not seen that picture,” Chudzinski said. “I don’t know exactly what happened. The guys are off today, so I’ll get a better idea [later this week]. But that’s the typical thing. There’s things that go back and forth with guys, and usually the second guy or the last guy is the one that gets caught, and we have to know that in that situation. That’s part of the game and part of being smart and part of the control that I’m talking about, and sometimes the second action can be understood because of what’s gone or what has gone on up to that point.”
Little, a second-round pick in the 2011 draft, later drew a taunting penalty against Ihedigbo with 11:10 left in the second quarter. As Ihedigbo drove Little out of bounds after he caught a pass on a crossing route, Little jabbed at Ihedigbo with his right hand. Ihedigbo shoved Little, and Little gestured at Ihedigbo to “come here,” prompting an official to throw a flag.
The penalties were blemishes on an otherwise stellar performance. Little and wide receiver Davone Bess, who had two touchdown catches and a clutch grab on a crucial fourth down in the final quarter, rose to the occasion after wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron carried the offense for several weeks.
After being benched earlier this season primarily because of problems with dropped passes, Little made several catches in traffic and repeatedly broke away from defenders.
“That’s something we talk about when the ball is in the air, attacking the football and being strong to the ball, and that’s the way he played,” Chudzinski said. “He made some of those catches, jumping up for [the ball] and then having guys hang on him, and then he really had some good run after the catch, which was critical.
“He’s working to get better, you see him getting better, and he was able to transfer the things he’s been doing in practice to the game. I thought between Greg and Davone Bess both those guys really stepped up for us and were big.”
Little had the longest gain of the game for the Browns, a 46-yard catch-and-run from quarterback Jason Campbell with 11:50 left in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Corey Graham tackled him along the sideline at the Ravens’ 34, and Little immediately grabbed his right shoulder. He later returned to the game but did not speak to the media afterward. Fortunately for the Browns, Chudzinski expects Little to be fine coming off a breakout game.
Outside linebacker Quentin Groves (ankle) and tight end MarQueis Gray (hamstring) might not be as lucky. They won’t practice Tuesday, Chudzinski said.
Linebackers Eric Martin (knee) and Darius Eubanks (cleared after being evaluated for a head injury) will practice Tuesday.
Going for it
Chudzinski credited coaching legend Jimmy Johnson for influencing his aggressive decision-making on game days. Chudzinski played under Johnson’s guidance for three years as a tight end at the University of Miami in the 1980s.
When deciding whether to go for it, Chudzinski said he gauges his confidence in the plays the coaching staff has to choose from and the players who must execute them.
“Those are the things that you weigh at those particular times,” Chudzinski said. “There’s times to do them, and there’s times not to do them. We’re going to tend to be on the aggressive side of those.”
The Browns are 10-of-19 on fourth down this season, leading the NFL in attempts and conversions. They went 2-for-2 Sunday. Bess caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Campbell on fourth-and-goal with 8:24 left in the first quarter. And with 3:12 left in the fourth quarter, Bess dived to grab a 3-yard pass from Campbell on a crucial fourth-and-1 at the Ravens’ 43-yard line, allowing the Browns to continue the drive, kick a field goal and hang on for the win.
“You have four downs,” Chudzinski said. “You might as well use them all, right?”
Evaluating the run
Chudzinski said the coaching staff would take a “hard look at our run game” during the bye week.
The Browns are ranked 25th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (81.6), and they had 28 carries for only 73 yards (2.6 average) on Sunday. If Campbell’s three scrambles for 20 yards are discounted, the rest of the team accounted for 25 carries for 53 yards (2.1 average).
Starting running back Willis McGahee, who turned 32 two weeks ago, had 21 carries for just 31 yards (1.5 average). He has 100 carries for 262 yards (2.6 average) this season.
“We’re going to refine it,” Chudzinski said. “We’re going to keep demanding that it get better from a technique perspective, and from a scheme, trying to put our guys and do everything we can to give them put them in the best possible position. It’s something we’re going to look hard at in the next couple of days because we need to improve as the season goes on.”
Get well soon
Chudzinski said he sent text messages to Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak and Denver Broncos coach John Fox to wish them well as they’re enduring health scares.
Kubiak remained hospitalized Monday after collapsing on the field at halftime Sunday in Houston. Fox was hospitalized Saturday in North Carolina and had aortic valve replacement surgery Monday.
Chudzinski acknowledged that the long hours and demands associated with coaching in the NFL could take a toll.
“I hope that they’re better and doing better and things are going well there,” Chudzinski said. “It’s a high-stress job. It’s an exciting job. It’s a job I wouldn’t trade for anything. It can be very demanding on you, and it’s part of it. I hope that everything is going well in their cases. It’s good for us that the bye week is here. It gives us a chance to catch our breath a little bit.”
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.