By Marla Ridenour
and Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writers
GREEN BAY, Wis.: Tashaun Gipson might be developing a reputation he doesn’t want.
In a 31-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field, Gipson, a Browns second-year free safety, knocked tight end Jermichael Finley out of the game with what Gipson thought was a legal hit.
On Oct. 3, Gibson’s diving tackle on Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel ended Manuel’s game. Manuel suffered a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee that still has him sidelined.
“It’s just not there for me. This is the second time in a couple weeks, I’m probably going to hear about that,” Gipson said.
With 10:22 remaining Sunday, Finley caught a 10-yard pass over the middle, and Gipson hit him in the helmet with his shoulder pad a second after the reception. Referee Jeff Triplette flagged Gipson for unnecessary roughness and said Gipson led with his helmet.
“It was all shoulder pad, from my recollection,” Gipson said. “I thought it was a clean breakup. I didn’t even know he was injured at the time.”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said from his view he thought Gipson led with his shoulder.
“But apparently they didn’t think so,” Chudzinski said. “They obviously called the penalty for it. We’ll look at it and see.”
Finley was immobilized and taken off on a stretcher. The Packers said Finley suffered a neck injury and had movement and feeling in all his extremities. He was taken to an area hospital for further evaluation.
“Injuries are a part of the game, but those are tough to see, not being able to walk off the field,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Always in the back of our minds, that’s kind of our worst nightmare.”
Gipson explained what happened as he took Finley down.
“I just broke on the ball, got a clean break, he caught the ball and I went in there and tried to deliver the big hit. Unfortunately that happened. There was no ill intent or maliciousness to that. At the end of the day, it’s just football. My condolences go out to him, shout a prayer up for him, I hope everything is well with him.”
Gipson said he will try to contact Finley to convey that message.
Gipson said he thought the play would be an incomplete pass or a fumble, but Triplette said he was ruled down by contact.
“When he laid there, sometimes in this business I’ve gotten my bell rung where I had to kind of recuperate and get my thoughts together,” Gipson said. “I didn’t know he was out like that. It was a scary scene.”
Listed as 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Gipson said he won’t change the way he plays despite what happened to Finley and Manuel.
“I’m taught one way. I just play the game of football, try to be as aggressive as possible,” Gipson said. “I’m not the biggest guy on the field. If plays come my way, I have a job to do. This is a clean sport. We’ve both got jobs. His job is to catch the ball, my job is to make sure he doesn’t catch it. It’s a physical sport. You never want to see something like that happen.”
‘Rabbit’ strikes again
Browns receiver/punt returner Travis Benjamin finally got a chance to return a kickoff and broke loose on an 86-yarder. He got to the Packer 20 before cornerback Micah Hyde tripped him up, Benjamin set up a Browns touchdown that helped them cut the deficit to 24-13 with 6:09 remaining.
Two of the Packers’ top three receivers were out due to injury, but Jarrett Boykin torched the Browns’ defense for eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown, a 20-yarder with 3:44 remaining. The Packers signed Boykin, an undrafted free agent from Virginia Tech, in May 2012 after a tryout at rookie minicamp. He entered the league with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Key defender returns
Browns right outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard played for the first time since spraining his left knee Sept. 22 while recovering a fumble against the Minnesota Vikings. He returned to the starting lineup, bumping rookie Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, back into a reserve role.
Sheard finished with no tackles and one quarterback hurry, and said he came out of the game fine physically. He also joined the captains — Joe Thomas, D’Qwell Jackson and Quentin Groves — for the coin toss.
For the first time since Sept. 15, the Browns had their top four outside linebackers — Sheard, Mingo, starter Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves — playing in the same game. That’s when Groves suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 2 against the Baltimore Ravens. He returned to action last week against the Detroit Lions. But Groves didn’t last long. He suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return.
Running back Fozzy Whittaker, claimed on waivers from the San Diego Chargers Sept. 30, notched his first NFL carry in the first quarter, picking up 7 yards. Whittaker, a first-year player from the University of Texas, finished with five rushes for 11 yards and caught two passes for 13 yards.
“This is my first real year of actually playing,” Whittaker said. “I’m gaining experience, gaining knowledge from the older guys like Chris Ogbonnaya and Willis McGahee, they’re constantly feeding me knowledge. The more reps I get in games and in practice, the better back I can become. I really appreciate [them] working with me.”
Whittaker also took over kickoff return duties from Greg Little late in the first quarter. Whittaker ripped off a 31-yard return on his first chance. He added a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter. He totaled 103 yards on three returns for a 34.3 average.
“I’m always ready,” Whittaker said of the kickoff returns. “We practice that all the time. It’s nothing new. I just want to help the team win any way I can, if it be returner, kickoff, special teams, a special role on offense, I want to just help the team get a ‘W.’ ”
Taking a chance
Down 14-0 in the first quarter and facing a fourth-and-1 at their own 43, Chudzinski elected to go for it. With punter Spencer Lanning lined up outside, Ogbonnaya took a direct snap and ran for a yard, the initial spot holding up to measurement.
But Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the spot as replay showed Ogbonnaya’s elbow might have hit the ground a few inches short of where the ball was marked. But McCarthy lost the challenge. Mike Pereira, the former vice president of officiating for the NFL and now an analyst for Fox Sports, said on Twitter the call should have been overturned. Pereira said Ogbonnaya’s elbow was down before the ball got to the 44-yard line.
The Browns got no spark from the conversion, losing a yard on the next three plays, and were forced to punt.
Not much on ground
Although three of the Packers’ four starting linebackers were out with injuries, the Browns didn’t do much damage on the ground. They finished with 23 carries for 83 yards (3.6 average), but only 21 carries for 63 yards (3.0 average) when Weeden’s two scrambles for 20 yards are discounted.
McGahee said the Browns’ 14-0 deficit at the end of the first quarter contributed to the lack of productivity.
“Of course, I think there was a real opportunity in the run game,” said McGahee, who had 11 carries for 39 yards (3.5 average). “But when you don’t come out and do what you’re supposed to do and you get down, something has to suffer, and it’s the run game.”
The Browns had 14 carries for 51 yards in the first half and nine carries for 32 yards in the second half. The Packers entered the game ranked third in the NFL against the run (78.2 yards allowed per game).
Inactives, lineup changes
Inside linebacker Brandon Magee (oblique), center Patrick Lewis, offensive tackle Martin Wallace, guard Garrett Gilkey, tight end Keavon Milton and defensive end Billy Winn (quadriceps) were inactive for the Browns. None of the scratches was a surprise.
Magee was listed as questionable entering Sunday. He practiced all last week on a limited basis.
Three of the Packers’ four starting linebackers were out: outside linebackers Clay Matthews (thumb) and Nick Perry (foot) and inside linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring). And two of their three top wide receivers were sidelined: James Jones (knee ligament damage) and Randall Cobb (fractured fibula, on injured reserve and designated to return).
Cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring), running back James Starks (knee) and tight end Ryan Taylor (knee) were also inactive.
Blast from past
The Packers wore navy jerseys and tan pants, replicas of their uniform in 1929, the year of their first world championship. It was the ninth time in team history and fourth time at Lambeau Field they were outfitted in throwback attire. The Browns sported brown pants and white jerseys.
Browns tight end Jordan Cameron had seven receptions for 55 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown. He leads the team this season with a career-high 45 catches, 515 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Cameron and Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome are the only Browns tight ends with six or more touchdowns in a season. Newsome had six in 1981 and 1983 and nine in 1979. Cameron’s 45 receptions are tied for the most by a Browns player in the first seven games of a season. Newsome had 45 in 1984. … Kicker Billy Cundiff made field-goal attempts of 46 and 44 yards. He is 11-of-13 this season. … The Packers have won 10 consecutive regular-season games at home and 23 of their past 24. … The Browns registered one sack to increase their season total to 20. Kruger and cornerback Chris Owens split a sack. It was Kruger’s first sack since he tallied one in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. 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.