CLEVELAND: Josh Cribbs is embarrassed for Browns fans.
In his seven seasons in the NFL — all in Cleveland — Cribbs knows the pains the faithful have endured since the franchise returned in 1999.
“We tried to win for our fans,” Cribbs said after the 13-12 loss Sunday to the visiting St. Louis Rams. “It’s embarrassing. It’s hard to ask them to keep rooting for us, even though they do anyway. I respect them a helluva lot more now, each and every week, each and every year.”
The bumbling Browns might have reached new depths of ineptitude Sunday. And part of the blame this time belongs to Cribbs.
After helping spark the Browns offense via a handful of Wildcat plays, Cribbs fumbled during a fourth-quarter punt return. That led to the Rams’ game-winning field goal with 7:42 to play at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Cribbs returned Donnie Jones’ 45-yard punt 6 yards before being stripped of the ball by David Nixon while fighting for extra yards. Ben Leber jumped on the loose ball for the recovery.
“He made a good play,” Cribbs said of Nixon’s strip. “[But for] ball security, I have to hold it with both hands. In traffic like that, I’m supposed to double wrap it. I was being careless.”
Nixon said Cribbs’ leaving the ball exposed was something he picked up on film.
“During film preparation, we saw [Cribbs] likes to have the ball exposed, and he doesn’t secure the ball very well,” Nixon said.
Cribbs tried to make up for the mistake by recovering another Browns fumble. On the Browns’ next possession, Cribbs pounced on a loose ball after quarterback Colt McCoy’s handoff to tight end Alex Smith was dropped.
Earlier in the game, Cribbs was part of one of the Browns’ more exciting plays — a double reverse in the Wildcat.
Cribbs lined up at quarterback and handed off to backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, who flipped the ball to McCoy, then ran a curl route. McCoy found Wallace open along the sideline for a 21-yard completion. That led to a 32-yard field goal that pulled the hosts to within a point, 7-6, with 7:41 left in the second quarter.
Cribbs enjoyed the creativity on offense with one caveat.
“I loved it,” he said. “Our offense was a lot more exciting. But we’ve just got to get in the end zone.”
In all, Cribbs rushed three times for 21 yards with a long of 15, caught three passes for 32 yards with a long gain of 20, and returned two punts for 6 yards and one kickoff for 27 yards.
Yet, for all the ways in which he helped the team, Cribbs would do anything to have his one glaring mistake back.
“[It’s] embarrassing not being able to come out and play solid football on a consistent basis,” he said. “We all played hard, but to not be able to take care of the basics, like holding onto the football. [Not] taking care of the football, which is gold, is embarrassing for me.”
A bad snap on a field goal kept the Browns out of the win column Sunday, but imagine where the team would be without kicker Phil Dawson.
With his first-quarter 44-yard field goal, Dawson scored more points (31) than the rest of the Browns combined (30) in the past six games. Further, all of the Browns’ 18 points in their past two home games have come from Dawson’s field goals, including a season-high four Sunday.
“I don’t even look when he’s kicking because Phil is Old Faithful,” Cribbs said. “He makes kicks. Even the long ones, I don’t look at him.”
Plagued by injury
Six Rams left during the game with injuries.
Cornerback Al Harris injured his knee in the first quarter and never returned.
Safety Darian Stewart was questionable in the second quarter with a head injury. He came back in, but later left again with a neck injury.
Running back Cadillac Williams suffered a right quad injury in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, offensive tackle Rodger Saffold was injured and play was stopped temporarily.
Although he walked off the field on his own power, he was out of action the rest of the game with a head injury.
Two plays later, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford scrambled 6 yards for a first down, but came up limping on his left leg after Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin landed on him. He went out for one play, but then came back in.
On the final play of the third quarter, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was carted to the locker room after Browns cornerback Joe Haden tackled him and banged into Hoomanawanui’s knee with his helmet.
After the game, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said Harris and Hoomanawanui had “significant knee injuries.” The Rams could lose both for the rest of the season.
He also said Williams “believe it or not, strained his calf going out onto the field.”
It was an up-and-down day for Haden, the second-year player who spent the game shadowing the Rams’ elite receiver Brandon Lloyd.
Although Haden recorded three passes defensed for a team-high 13 on the season, he also struggled at times to keep tabs on Lloyd.
Lloyd caught four of the nine passes thrown his way for 48 yards, including a touchdown and a highlight-reel one-handed grab for a long gain of 24.
“At first I was trying to take away the deep ball and make sure that he couldn’t go deep,” Haden said. “He caught some short passes and then we had a change of mindset, where we couldn’t give up any yards or let anybody catch the ball. It came down to clamping down on him and making sure he was uncomfortable for the rest of the game.”
Aside from giving up 128 rushing yards on 27 carries to Rams running back Steven Jackson, the defense enjoyed a decent showing with an interception by linebacker Scott Fujita and a forced fumble and recovery by linebacker Chris Gocong.
“We were able to create some turnovers and create more opportunities for the offense,” said veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who led the defense with eight tackles (five solo). “But we still gave up 100 yards. [Steven Jackson] had those big runs, and we’ve gotta find a way to correct that. I don’t feel we contained him.”
Browns rookie defensive lineman Phil Taylor wreaked havoc on Bradford with a sack and two quarterback hits. Taylor’s fourth-quarter sack on third-and-3 held the visitors to a field goal on their final score.
Afterwards, Taylor’s assessment of the game took all of nine words: “[Stuff] happens. You’ve just gotta move on from it.”
Cribbs started at receiver in place of Mohamed Massaquoi (concussion). Chris Ogbonnaya started at running back in place of Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and Montario Hardesty (calf). Emmanuel Stephens started at right defensive end in place of Jayme Mitchell, who was active but did not play because of chest and ankle injuries. Safety Usama Young made his first start with the Browns in place of T.J. Ward (foot), despite missin g some practice earlier in the week with a hip injury of his own. ... The 15- to 25-mile per hour winds with gusts up to 40 mph was so bad before the game that the pregame unfurling of a large Browns flag on the field had to be quickly aborted when gusts nearly toppled the fans holding it…A member of the chain crew was carted off the field in the second quarter. He was taken to a hospital, a Browns spokesman said. No other information was provided.