BEREA: There are mistakes that can easily be forgotten, and then there are others that force coaches and players to lose sleep.
The Browns committed the latter in Week 1, when they became victims of the Cincinnati Bengals’ game-winning, quick-snap touchdown. Now the Browns (4-6) are aiming for redemption as they visit the Bengals (6-4) today in the 77th edition of the Battle of Ohio.
“It really hurts,” Browns defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson said. “It hurts because the guys had fought so hard that game, played so well and to give up that play at that moment of the game, it hurt me as a coach ’cause I felt like I didn’t do my job, and I felt like that I had some responsibility in it, just like we all did.”
The Browns led by four points with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Their defense had shut out the Bengals for the first 25 minutes of the second half.
But the Browns collapsed on third-and-11 at their own 41-yard line. Bengals backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski took the snap from his center before the Browns’ defense had completely dispersed from its huddle and lined up. Cornerback Joe Haden left rookie wide receiver A.J. Green uncovered, and Gradkowski connected with Green for a 41-yard touchdown with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals tacked on another touchdown in the final two minutes and prevailed 27-17. The Browns stumbled and fell in their seventh consecutive season opener.
“Of all the things that are just embarrassing and make you sick, that was one of the all-timers there,” Browns strongside linebacker Scott Fujita said. “ … [It was an] all-timer since I was 8 years old playing this game, and I think a lot of coaches and players could say the same thing. Yeah, everybody gets caught off guard once in a while for a quick toss outside for an 8-yard gain, but very rarely is it the game-clinching touchdown. So, yeah, it’s disappointing, and I kind of take it personally, too, ’cause it was something I feel like I should have had a better handle of.”
The Browns were clearly confused before the quick snap, as evidenced by their 12 men on the field during the play. Nickel cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who had been in and out of the game with an injured ankle, re-entered the game before the play, but he didn’t tell Henderson. As a result, Henderson sent rookie cornerback Buster Skrine onto the field.
Meanwhile, middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was calling a play in the huddle, but it was too late. The Bengals capitalized on the chaos.
“No one wants to lose like that,” Patterson said. “When you play so hard all four quarters and you lose a game in the fashion that we lost it, it does leave a bitter taste in your mouth.”
After the game, Browns coach Pat Shurmur questioned whether his team was given enough time to substitute in response to the personnel changes the Bengals made before the snap. A league source said the play was legal, and the Browns had enough time to match the Bengals’ substitutions before the ball was snapped with 14 seconds left on the play clock.
Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron publicly blamed himself for the blunder a few days later during his weekly news conference.
“After making a call, I was back on my game plan sheet, thinking of a call ahead or thinking about the next call, and I missed it,” Jauron said on Sept. 15. “There is nothing else that I can say about it. I just missed it. I should have been able to help them. Calling a timeout would be the way to do it.”
The Browns know they must be alert today. The Bengals have tried to catch other opponents napping.
“You watch the film of them over really the course of the whole season, and they’re catching teams with that same type of style week after week after week,” Fujita said. “There was a play against Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago where they really had a guy they could have gone to for a long pass. They just didn’t see him, and the same thing against San Francisco.
“This is obviously something they’re committed to, that hurry-up type mentality, trying to catch you off guard, trying to catch you without being lined up, so we’ve just gotta be ready for that again. … We’ve been committed to [being prepared for] it ever since that game, and we practice it in practice all the time. I kind of wish the Bengals would have hit it on Pittsburgh and San Francisco, just to kind of welcome some other teams to the party.”
To combat hurry-up mode, the Browns’ cornerbacks now stay on the perimeter and rely on their teammates to relay coverage calls.
“We changed it up,” said Haden, whose five pass breakups against the Bengals were spoiled in the loss. “The corners don’t need to go to the huddle, so it won’t happen again. It was a smart play. It sets you up to know you don’t ever want that to happen again.”
If the Browns would have lined up during that infamous play in Shurmur’s debut as an NFL coach, perhaps their AFC North showdown today against the Bengals would feature two 5-5 teams. Heck, maybe the Browns would be 6-4 if they hadn’t botched their 22-yard field-goal attempt late in the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Rams, but that’s a whole other agonizing tale.
“Yeah, I think about that,” Fujita said. “Dick Jauron says it best. He said, ‘If you should’ve won those games, you would’ve won those games. Generally, those things work out the way they’re supposed to work out.’
“I kind of take that approach to it. So, yeah, in your gut, you feel like, ‘Hey, we had a chance. Maybe we ought to win that one.’ But should’ve? I don’t know anymore. I think he’s got the right philosophy. You get what you deserve in this league. That’s one thing I do know.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.