CLEVELAND: The Browns’ sad state of affairs left them playing for a field goal.
Or, in other words, playing to lose.
That sounds like heresy when they have kicker Phil Dawson, whom teammate Josh Cribbs called “Old Faithful” on Sunday.
But as creative as Browns coach Pat Shurmur’s play-calling was against his former team, the St. Louis Rams, his logic on the final possession was flawed.
So after everything that could go wrong did on Dawson’s 22-yard attempt with 2:13 remaining (the ball sailed wide left by what Dawson estimated was six inches and the Browns lost 13-12), it was no wonder Shurmur snapped at a smiling Browns’ employee in the post-game locker room.
After the Browns drove from their own 40 to a first down at the Rams’ 19 with 5:58 remaining, Shurmur never called another pass. When they faced first and goal at the Rams’ 8 with 3:55 to go, he didn’t take one shot in the end zone.
He played to kill the clock and get three points.
And what a mess that turned out to be. Ryan Pontbriand’s snap hit the right foot of Alex Mack and bounced to holder Brad Maynard, who made an amazing recovery to get the ball down. But the timing was wrong from the start — with Dawson and tight end Alex Smith saying they thought there was movement on the Rams’ line — and Dawson was ahead of the ball when he got to it.
But even if Dawson had converted his fifth field goal of the day, the Rams would have had plenty of time to drive into field-goal range. They’d done it the previous week in an overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals, only to see Josh Brown’s 42-yarder blocked on the final play of regulation.
If the Rams had taken over before the two-minute warning, they could have handed off to running back Steven Jackson, who finished with 128 yards on 27 carries. Then quarterback Sam Bradford, operating with one timeout remaining, would have worked the sidelines. Long odds for the Rams, perhaps, but not out of the question.
From the Rams’ 19, Shurmur called four runs by Chris Ogbonnaya for a total of 10 yards, a 3-yard carry by rookie fullback Owen Marecic that set up first and goal, and quarterback Colt McCoy’s botched handoff to Smith that Josh Cribbs recovered at the Rams’ 7.
“We were in a position to score points,” Shurmur said. “Our defense was playing extremely well and I wanted to make sure that we were going to get an opportunity to kick a field goal and go ahead.”
Focusing on points
Asked whether he considered throwing into the end zone before Dawson’s 22-yard attempt, Shurmur said, “I wanted to make sure we got points. I considered a lot of things.”
In the past four games, the Browns have scored just one touchdown, Cribbs’ 45-yard reception at San Francisco. So some might argue that Shurmur was merely going with what the Browns do best.
Sunday’s four trips in the red zone tied a season high (from Week 2 at Indianapolis).
But Shurmur could have figured that on the previous three red zone chances against the Rams, McCoy had completed 2-of-5 passes for 5 yards, both of those to running backs. Attempts to Cribbs and tight ends Jordan Cameron and Evan Moore had fallen incomplete, with Moore called for a face-mask penalty. Three red zone runs had netted 5 yards.
So on the final drive, McCoy said, “once we started running it, I kind of knew that is what we were going to do, keep it on the ground.”
The biggest head-scratcher was calling a run for Smith, who said he’d never carried the ball in his career. Although McCoy said Smith has played fullback “a lot,” Smith said he’d never practiced taking a handoff.
It’s possible Shurmur didn’t know that Marecic “was a little dinged up,” according to Smith, and that Smith had been sent in.
“Unfortunately, we kind of got mixed up with our personnel,” Smith said. “I don’t know if they necessarily knew Owen was out or not. I’m a football player, I need to be able to do a simple handoff and get upfield. I’m just happy we were able to recover the ball and give ourselves another chance.
“The fact that it might have been a miscommunication, the play was still called. I need to go out there and make it happen.”
Shurmur hates having one play singled out in defeat, so his anger flared when asked what he was thinking on the Smith play.
“We tried to hand him the football and he dropped it, that’s the thinking,” Shurmur said. “That’s what happened and we have to do a better job. There are so many things that happened in that game. Missing the kick, dropping the ball. … There was a lot of good, there was a lot of bad.
“I promised everybody that I would be genuine from Day 1 ’til the last day and I’m genuine right now in saying that. We can focus on what we want to focus on, but we lost the game. That’s genuine.”
Shurmur’s voice rose and the podium seemed endangered, while everyone in the room wondered what that “genuine” part was about.
No Browns publicly second-guessed Shurmur’s decision to play for a field goal. Cribbs, tight end Ben Watson and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson were on board.
“We’re down by one, a field goal wins it, I don’t have a problem with that at all,” Watson said.
Jackson loved the fact that Shurmur trusted the defense to hang on in the final two minutes.
“As a defensive player, that’s the opportunity you want to be in,” Jackson said.
But outside the locker room at Cleveland Browns Stadium more than the wind was howling. And with good reason.