CLEVELAND: Coach Pat Shurmur, clad in a suit and tie, put his left arm around rookie running back Trent Richardson’s shoulder and consoled him in the locker room Sunday after the Browns’ 24-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
“He just told me don’t get down on myself, and that’s strong coming from him,” Richardson said. “He told me, ‘Hey, man. It’s gonna be there. We’re all heading in the right direction.’ ”
Richardson said the loss “hurts a lot,” so comforting was in order. He served as a microcosm for the Browns’ offense, because he failed to build on the progress made in Week 2 during a 34-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
After gaining 145 yards from scrimmage and scoring two touchdowns in Cincinnati, Richardson had 12 carries for only 27 yards (2.3 average) and six catches for 24 yards against the Bills (2-1). He made a nice play by bouncing outside and running to the left for a 6-yard touchdown with 2:12 left in the second quarter, but his impact wasn’t significant.
The step back hurt, especially because Browns hall of fame running back Jim Brown was watching Richardson closely. Brown attended the game in support of his former teammate Ernie Green, who was inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends at halftime.
Brown called Richardson “ordinary” on draft day, and Richardson has used the comment as motivation since. Brown offered words of encouragement when they met for the first time.
“He’s the type of guy that’s an icon, always been an icon, always been a fighter, always been a winner,” Richardson said. “So one of the powerful things he said to me is, ‘Keep trying no matter what. Don’t get to the point where you’re settling for anything. Don’t give up. Keep going no matter what. Keep striving.’ ”
Richardson vowed to follow Brown’s advice. He delivered a speech to his teammates Wednesday, urging them to reject the losing culture that has plagued the franchise for most of its expansion era. With the Browns on the verge of facing the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night, he knows he can’t stop pushing.
“Gotta keep fighting, gotta keep trying to motivate the team and gotta keep motivating myself,” said Richardson, the third overall pick in this year’s draft. “As far as me trying to step in the role of being a leader, I’ve got to make sure I’m doing everything correctly at all times. Yeah, we’re 0-3, but we’ve got another game Thursday, so it’s going back to the drawing board and trying to figure out a way to win, no matter what it takes.
“Gotta get on the field as fast as possible and clean up our mess-ups and get to this game. Simple fact is that we can’t have no mess-ups on a team like Baltimore that has grown men out there. They’re ready to play. And so we’ve got to get prepared for anything because they’re going to throw anything and everything at us.”
The Browns had at least four drops and failed to secure a couple of other catchable balls, many of them coming on third down and killing drives.
Rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon had a third-down pass go off his hands, though the throw was low, on the first drive of the game. Richardson’s dropped pass in the second quarter on second down was the least costly of the bunch, as it came on the play before rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden hit rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin for a 22-yard touchdown.
But receivers Mohamed Massaquoi, Benjamin and Greg Little all dropped passes on third down, the worst of which may have been Little’s. He was crossing the field 5 yards deep on third-and-4 in the second quarter and had plenty of room to run after the catch, but he let Weeden’s pass go through his hands.
“I just gotta look the ball in,” Little said. “I know that we were a little sporadic starting out and I wanted to do so much when I got the ball in my hands and I didn’t secure the catch. … I’m not looking for the next step. I’m looking for the touchdown. I can’t allow myself to do that.”
Weeden offered encouragement to Little both on the sidelines and later in the locker room.
“Greg had the one, and I went up to him and said, ‘Hey, listen, you gotta stay in it mentally. I’m coming right back to ya. We got a lot of football left and I’m gonna throw you the football again,’ ” Weeden said. “Those were my exact words. I said the same thing to Travis.
“It happens. I don’t throw the perfect football all the time. Stuff happens. But you gotta find a way to bounce back and be able to move forward.”
Strong safety T.J. Ward lamented the defense’s struggles. With cornerback Joe Haden serving his suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, it has allowed three touchdown passes in each of the past two games.
“I really can’t explain it,” Ward said. “I don’t know what’s going on right now, but we’ve got to fix it. Just the communication, what’s said, what’s supposed to happen within the defense.
“I think we’re just playing a little different than we did last year. Last year, we were sure when we got in that we were playing certain things. I think it’s kind of different now based on personnel. We’ve just got to get something solidified and stick with it.”
The Browns used their nickel defense for a majority of the game. Cornerbacks Buster Skrine and Sheldon Brown lined up on the outside while Dimitri Patterson covered the slot. But Ward said all of the problems can’t be attributed to Haden’s absence.
“Of course, Joe would’ve made a difference,” Ward said. “But we can’t say that if he was here, he would’ve won the game. You can’t say that. But it would help.”
The Bills took a 14-0 lead with 5:06 left in the first quarter after running back C.J. Spiller took a screen pass 32 yards for a touchdown virtually untouched.
“The screens, you usually pick up a lot of chunk plays,” middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “But very rarely have I been around a defense when a screen has gone the distance. It was something that just happened. I feel like we spotted them 14 [points]. But to their credit, they made the play. We just have to do a better job tackling.”
Ward said he and Jackson were caught out of position as Spiller ran past them.
Special-teams ace Ray “Bubba” Ventrone returned to the field after surgery to repair his broken left hand last week.
“It felt good, felt good to be back out there with my teammates,” he said. “The hand didn’t bother me at all. I was limited a little bit as far as how much I could use it. It affected me a little bit on how I was blocking. I couldn’t hold my blocks as long. But it felt pretty good.”
Part of plan
After not catching a pass in the Browns’ first two games, tight end Jordan Cameron hauled in five passes for 45 yards against the Bills, both career highs.
“I just took advantage of the opportunities given to me,” Cameron said. “There’s a lot of things I need to improve on. …That was just the game plan this week, so I’m not really looking forward. I don’t know what they’re going to do next week.”
Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi left the game with roughly nine minutes remaining in the third quarter with an injured left hamstring and did not return.
“Yeah we’re gonna look at it,” Massaquoi said. “Hopefully, it won’t be anything too extensive. I’m eager to continue to fight to get a win.”
Massaquoi caught one pass for 14 yards before exiting.
Kent State product Usama Young started at free safety and rotated throughout the game with undrafted rookie Tashaun Gipson. Eric Hagg, who started the first two games of the season at free safety, was inactive.
Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, receiver Jordan Norwood, running back Brandon Jackson, linebacker James- Michael Johnson (ribs/oblique) and offensive lineman Ryan Miller also were inactive for the Browns.
Green (1962-68) and former defensive back Clarence Scott (1971-83) were inducted as the 2012 class of Cleveland Browns Legends.
Scott, who’s been a Browns fan since the sixth grade, said the induction put him “in heaven here on Earth.”
Green also cherished the honor.
“I felt fantastic because I think for the first time in my life, I accepted the fact that somebody thought I was pretty good,” Green said. “This is validation in my own mind and heart that somebody else thought I could play.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.