By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
ARLINGTON, TEXAS: Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden thought he threw the first game-winning touchdown pass of his NFL career when he hit tight end Benjamin Watson with a strike in the end zone late in the fourth quarter Sunday evening at Cowboys Stadium.
However, Weeden was wrong. The Dallas Cowboys forced overtime with a 32-yard field goal with two seconds left in the fourth quarter, and the Browns fell 23-20 after rallying to capture the lead with 1:07 left in regulation.
“We made a play late in the game,” Weeden said. “We thought we finished, and it sucks.”
Coming off a dismal performance in the Browns’ 25-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 4, Weeden completed 20-of-35 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He finished with a passer rating of 93.8.
But Weeden squandered opportunities like the rest of the offense. After he put the Browns in position to win in regulation, the offense went three-and-out. He said he threw the ball away on second-and-10 at the Browns’ 10-yard line because no one was open. He then completed a 6-yard pass to wide receiver Josh Gordon on third-and-10.
“Down there if you turn it over, I thought I could get it to Josh quick enough where he could burst upfield, maybe get a first down,” Weeden said. We put ourselves in the situation where we had to throw the football, and we had to throw it down the field. They dropped eight. It’s challenging, especially when you’re backed up field-position wise. You can’t be crazy down there.”
In the fourth quarter, Weeden received a reminder about the importance of ball security. The Cowboys appeared to strike a backbreaking blow when outside linebacker Anthony Spencer rushed by rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwarz, strip-sacked Weeden and recovered the fumble with 5:45 left. Fortunately for the Browns, defensive end Frostee Rucker stripped Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo of the ball two plays later, and linebacker Craig Robertson recovered at the Browns’ 35 with 5:01 left.
“That sack was on me,” Weeden said. “I apologized. [Offensive line coach George Warhop] got into me a little bit, and he apologized. But it was on me. I’m in the shotgun, dropped back to 10 yards. I’ve got push. I’ve got to help my tackles out there. I think Mitch probably thought he had run [Spencer] by like he was supposed to, and I just didn’t push up. It was 100 percent on me.”
After Rucker’s takeaway, the Browns marched to the Cowboys’ 1. On fourth-and-goal, tight end Jordan Cameron ran a fade route in the back corner of the end zone. Weeden’s pass sailed high, Cameron caught it out of bounds and the Cowboys took possession with 1:42 left.
“I didn’t give us a chance on the fourth down,” Weeden said. “I threw it high to Jordan. It was not a very good throw on fourth down.”
Weeden, though, capitalized on his next opportunity. The Browns forced the Cowboys to a three-and-out and took possession at the Cowboys’ 17 after Josh Cribbs returned a punt 21 yards and John Phillips was penalized 15 yards for a horse-collar tackle on Cribbs. The next play, Weeden connected with Watson for the go-ahead touchdown.
“You can’t look at this team and say we don’t play hard or we don’t fight,” Weeden said. “We just haven’t been able to finish lately.”
Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson had 28 carries for 95 yards (3.4 average), but he had only 33 yards on the ground in the second half. He also had a couple of notable letdowns in the fourth quarter.
Richardson took a pitch to the left on third-and-5 at the Browns’ 12 and fumbled when free safety Gerald Sensabaugh hit him. Richardson recovered, but he was a yard shy of the first down and the Browns were forced to punt with 12:04 left. The Cowboys took possession at their own 42 and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
“I don’t think I did enough out there,” said Richardson, who also had six catches for 49 yards. “It happens. … I fumbled the ball. That’s something rarely happens. I left a lot of yards out there today.”
On third-and-goal at the Cowboys’ 1, Richardson ran up the middle and tried to leap up and over the pile, but linebacker Dan O’Connor stopped him with 1:47 left.
“If you don’t get the right jump or the play doesn’t go like it’s supposed to go, you get hit in the mouth,” Richardson said.
The Browns posted a season-high seven sacks, their most since they tallied eight against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 10, 2009.
Defensive ends Juqua Parker, Jabaal Sheard and Rucker, defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin, who returned from an injured calf, and John Hughes and linebacker Craig Robertson each had a sack. Free safety Usama Young and weakside linebacker Kaluka Maiava each had a half sack.
“We just had a whole bunch of want-to,” Rucker said. “We were determined to do it. We have practicing hard. We had all of our guys up today and we went for it. That’s what happens when you get repetitions up front and rotate in a good way.”
Browns strong safety T.J. Ward disagreed with the 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty he received with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Ward said he tried to hit wide receiver Kevin Ogletree in the chest, but the officials ruled Ward hit him in the head. Ogletree was knocked out of the game, and the Cowboys went on to cap the drive by tying the score and forcing overtime.
“I hit him in the chest, aimed at his chest, ball comes, man comes all in a split-second. It’s not Back to the Future. I can’t control time. It’s frustrating. It’s very frustrating,” Ward ssid.
Coach Pat Shurmur said Browns cornerback Buster Skrine suffered a concussion during the play when he and Ward sandwiched Ogletree.
Mike Holmgren, the Browns’ lame-duck president, would only return to coaching for the Cowboys job, ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Sunday, citing a source.
Holmgren made the rounds Sunday during pregame warm-ups. He shook hands with former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who held the same role with the Browns from 2009-10, patted Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on the shoulder and drew the attention of cameras by chatting at midfield with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for about seven minutes.
On Nov. 11, Jason La Canfora of CBS reported that Holmgren “has serious interest” in coaching the Cowboys if the job opens. Holmgren said Monday he hasn’t expressed interest in the job, but he never said he wouldn’t be interested if it became available.
“We’re good friends,” Jones said of Holmgren after the game. “We served for about seven or eight years on the [league’s] competition committee together and have a top friendship. We visited about all the things that we normally visit about. Apart from being an outstanding coach, he’s a heck of a man. He’s got a lot of character, and I can’t tell you how much I respect him. When you’ve been close like that and spend a lot of time with somebody, familiarity can breed content, as the saying goes. It’s just the opposite with him.”
Starting cornerback Joe Haden was inactive with an injured oblique muscle he suffered Wednesday during practice. Haden stood on the sideline and watched the Browns fall to 0-5 this season when he’s not in the lineup. He missed four games earlier this season while serving a suspension. Skrine started in Haden’s place, and rookie Trevin Wade served as the nickel corner. … Cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle), running back Brandon Jackson, safety Ray Ventrone (hand/calf), fullback Owen Marecic, defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron and guard Jarrod Shaw were inactive, too. … Free safeties Eric Hagg and Tashaun Gipson received significant playing time. … Wide receiver Josh Cooper suffered a knee contusion, Shurmur said. … Watson had four receptions for 47 yards and tied a career-high with two touchdowns (10 and 17 yards). … Robertson tallied the first sack and fumble recovery of his career.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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