BEREA: Joe Thomas believes one of the reasons for Browns running back Chris Ogbonnaya’s breakout game on Sunday was the continuity of the offense.
The line has been working with the same running back for three weeks now, and the payoff was a surprising 115-yard performance and a touchdown from Ogbonnaya in the Browns’ 14-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Now as soon as that continuity and comfort level have been established, the deck is about to get shuffled again with the return of Montario Hardesty and eventually Peyton Hillis.
For now, the Browns are thrilled to simply produce a victory and a 100-yard rusher. That hasn’t happened since Peyton Hillis ran for 131 yards in a victory against the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 28 last season. The last 100-yard game came when Hillis ran for 108 yards Dec. 12 in a loss to the Buffalo Bills.
“We’ve been playing better the last couple weeks,” Thomas said. “It’s about consistency and getting five guys with a running back that’s the same running back three weeks in a row, getting some of the same tight ends and just getting on the same page. I think it’s just a natural growth process that we’re kind of seeing.”
Ogbonnaya was upset with himself after a sluggish first half, when he had 17 yards on nine carries. He said he missed a couple of reads and slipped and fell once when a big gain was available.
He made up for it in the fourth quarter when he delivered a big block on Colt McCoy’s touchdown pass to Josh Cribbs, and he rushed for 60 yards, including an impressive 40-yard run down the sideline that ended with him grabbing his hamstring and hobbling out of bounds.
The Browns have already lost three tailbacks to injuries this year, and Ogbonnaya appeared to be the fourth, but it was only a cramp. He drank some fluids and was able to return.
“We knew coming into this game Jacksonville was very good up front and very stout,” Ogbonnaya said. “The strength of the group was the linebackers and we had some good collisions.
“After the first half, we made some good adjustments. There were some things I needed to see better. As a runner I missed some reads.”
He has rushed for 233 yards in three games since taking over for Hardesty, who was close to returning from a torn calf injury this week. Hardesty has missed three games, and Hillis has missed the past five with a left hamstring injury.
“I just go out and prepare every week like I’m the starter even if my role is relegated to special teams and a few offensive snaps,” Ogbonnaya said. “To have them back will definitely help us. I don’t really care what my role is, as long as I’m part of it.”
Sunday’s game was littered with quirky calls, ranging from Phil Dawson’s missed field goal in the fourth quarter to a Jaguars challenge that wasn’t overturned when it should’ve been and a strange penalty on the Jaguars that wound up costing the Browns a field goal.
That’s nothing new for a Jaguars-Browns series that was responsible for Orlando Brown getting hit in the eye with a penalty flag and the infamous Bottlegate 10 years ago.
Terry McAulay was the referee for the Bottlegate incident, and he was back in the stadium on Sunday.
As for Sunday’s strange plays in chronological order:
Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio challenged a pass-interference call in the end zone in the second quarter, claiming the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage to make the contact legal.
Replays seemed to confirm the tip by Jaguars defensive lineman C.J. Mosley, but McAulay refused to overturn the call.
“We had no definitive shot of it being touched by the player,” McAulay told a pool reporter after the game. “There was a fuzzy shot that was possible, but then all of the other shots we just couldn’t prove it and we have to see the ball touched by a hand before we can do anything with it.”
That seemed to infuriate Del Rio after the Jaguars assistant coaches upstairs had clearly seen the tip. It was a crucial penalty, since it placed the ball at the goal line. Ogbonnaya scored the Browns’ first touchdown two plays later.
“Maybe that’s just another reason they should have somebody upstairs seeing the same high definition that you’re looking at,” Del Rio said.
“For some reason the league wants to keep the referees looking in that little screen when you’ve got guys upstairs looking at 50-inch [screens]. I don’t quite understand it.”
The Browns took a field goal off the board in the third quarter when the Jaguars’ Mike Lockley was flagged for leaping.
“A player who starts more than a yard from the ball cannot jump up and land on another player,” McAulay said.
Instead of the Browns taking a 10-7 lead, the drive continued and McCoy eventually threw an interception.
The biggest gaffe may have been on Dawson’s 38-yard field-goal attempt with 2:49 remaining in the game. Officials declared the kick was wide right and declared it wasn’t reviewable because the ball sailed above the right upright.
“The way we saw it was part of the ball was outside of the outside edge of the upright,” McAulay said.
Dawson was irate, shouting at the officials the kick was good. Replays seemed to confirm he was correct.
“If I answer honestly and objectively and unbiased what I saw, I’d probably get fined,” Dawson said. “I’m a little confused. If you can’t review a play where the ball is above the upright, why would you need a review to begin with?”
The play was particularly tormenting to Dawson after a botched snap at the end of last week’s game cost the Browns a victory over the St. Louis Rams.
“It’s a thin line,” Dawson said. “Fortunately our defense stepped up, made some plays at the end and we won the game. I won’t get run out of town this week.”
Good day, bad day
Joe Haden had some tough moments but came up with the big play when it mattered.
He dropped two potential interceptions in the third quarter and was flagged for a critical pass interference when he pulled down receiver Jason Hill on the Jaguars’ final drive. But he was able to get his hand on the ball on a pass to Hill in the end zone with eight seconds left in the game.
“[Haden] did a nice job of stripping the hands and getting away with an early strip,” Del Rio said. “[Haden]was draped on him prior to the ball arriving, but it was a bang-bang play.”
Big play, big moment
The Browns have been searching for a big play out of their receivers and finally found it when Jordan Norwood’s catch-and-run resulted in a 51-yard play.
Norwood caught a pass in the middle of the field, juked Jaguars safety Chris Prosinski and turned it into the third-biggest play of the season. Ogbonnaya capped the drive with the Browns’ first score.
“I was hoping I was a little faster,” Norwood said. “I was hoping I was getting into the end zone.”
Phil Taylor had a career-high nine tackles. … Cribbs has caught a touchdown pass in three of the past four games. … Fullback Owen Marecic suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter. Browns linebacker Quinton Spears hurt his hamstring in the game. … Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi started after missing two of the previous three games with concussion symptoms. He had two catches for 19 yards. … Usama Young started at strong safety for the second consecutive game because of T.J. Ward’s sprained right foot. … Cornerback Dimitri Patterson was active after missing the previous two games with a sprained left knee. … Emmanuel Stephens started at defensive end in place of Jayme Mitchell, but they rotated throughout the game and played together when Jabbal Sheard was rested. … Former Browns receiver Brian Robiskie was inactive for the Jaguars.
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