ARLINGTON, TEXAS: The Browns made their first trip to Cowboys Stadium, played in a thriller that fit the venue’s circus-like atmosphere well and flew back to Cleveland on Sunday night telling the same old story.
After controlling the first half, falling behind in the fourth quarter and then rallying to recapture the lead, the Browns made too many mistakes in the clutch and believe they were short-changed by some controversial calls. In the end, they fell 23-20 to the Dallas Cowboys when Dan Bailey made the game-winning, 38-yard field goal with 6:07 left in overtime.
Despite coming off a bye, the Browns lost their second consecutive game and their 12th in a row on the road. It is the longest active road losing streak in the NFL.
“I’m numb to it now,” middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “You just try to focus on your job and focus on playing the best you can and making sure guys are still into playing. We’ve been in this situation far too much, and there’s nothing you need to say. We’ve got to finish.”
The Cowboys got the ball to start overtime, but they stalled when undrafted rookie cornerback Johnson Bademosi, who was thrust into action on defense for the first time this season because Buster Skrine suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter, broke up a pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant on third-and-2 at the Browns’ 41-yard line.
The Browns (2-8) then took possession at their 10 but went three-and-out. Rookie running back Trent Richardson, who had 28 carries for 95 yards, ran for no gain on first down. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden threw the ball away on second down. The Cowboys dropped eight defenders into coverage on third down, and Weeden hit Josh Gordon with a short pass for a 6-yard gain, well short of a first down.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games this year,” said Weeden, who completed 20-of-35 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns, including a 17-yard scoring strike to tight end Benjamin Watson that gave the Browns a 20-17 lead with 1:07 left in the fourth quarter. “We just haven’t been able to finish and kind of step on their throat.”
On the ensuing punt return, Dwayne Harris of the Cowboys got past Bademosi and reeled off a 20-yard return to the Browns’ 47. The Cowboys (5-5) then marched 28 yards to set up Bailey’s deciding field goal.
The Browns, though, believe they were ripped off during the drive. On first-and-10 at the Browns’ 32, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo hit wide receiver Miles Austin with a pass on a slant route. Austin took two steps with the ball before cornerback Sheldon Brown knocked it from his grasp. The Browns thought it was a fumble — free safety Usama Young picked up the ball — but the officials ruled it an incomplete pass.
Browns coach Pat Shurmur called a timeout in an attempt to give the officials time to reconsider the call, but referee Ed Hochuli explained the play could not be reviewed by rule. On replay, the ball appeared to move slightly before the Brown’s strip, which would justify it being called incomplete.
“It was clearly incomplete and it’s not reviewable,” Mike Pereira, former vice president of officiating for the NFL who’s now a rules analyst for Fox Sports, tweeted.
Austin said he felt like he was close to gaining possession when the ball popped out. Brown disagreed.
“He caught the ball,” Brown said. “It didn’t just fall out. He caught the ball, he was running with the ball and I clubbed it with my right fist and the ball came out. And they said it’s not reviewable. I don’t remember us getting a call today where I was like ‘Man, we finally got a call.’ ”
The Browns finished with 12 penalties, 10 on defense and two on special teams. The secondary was without starting cornerback Joe Haden, who was sidelined with an injured oblique muscle, and was flagged seven times. Romo completed 35-of-50 passes for 313 yards against the short-handed secondary, and Bryant had 12 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown.
After Weeden and Watson connected for their second touchdown of the game to put the Browns ahead by three points late in regulation, the Cowboys drove 66 yards in seven plays to set up Bailey’s 32-yard field goal, which he made with two seconds remaining to force overtime. The Cowboys were aided during the march by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on T.J. Ward and a 35-yard pass-interference penalty on Brown, who was covering Harris. The officials ruled Ward hit wide receiver Kevin Ogletree in the helmet.
The Browns left Texas angry because of the calls. They also left frustrated because they wasted a 13-0 halftime lead, a season-high seven sacks and defensive end Frostee Rucker’s strip-sack that gave them a shot of momentum with 5:01 left in the fourth quarter.
“We got chances and chances and chances,” Watson said. “The Cowboys, I think, just did a better job of capitalizing.”
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