It sure looked as though the Browns were going to suffer yet another one of those agonizing, frustrating, damn-them-to-hell losses Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
It began when Phil Dawson missed a put-the-game-away field goal from 38 yards that would have given the Browns a 17-10 lead over the Jacksonville Jaguars with 2:49 left in regulation.
This time, unlike last Sunday in the 13-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams, the snap from Ryan Pontbriand was perfect. The hold by Brad Maynard was perfect. And Dawson’s approach to the ball was perfect.
Everything was in exquisite alignment except for the ball, which came off Dawson’s right foot and immediately headed toward the right upright. It continued to veer in that direction as it passed directly over the upright. It clearly did not pass between the uprights.
And that’s why the back judge, standing directly under that upright, checked with the field judge under the opposite upright before signaling no good. Shocked members of Browns Nation immediately entered the state of apoplexy as another victory began to ostensibly slip away.
All the back judge did was obey the rules book. In the NFL Rules Book – Beginner’s Guide to Football on nlf.com, it reads: For a field goal to be “good,” the placekicker (or field-goal kicker) must kick the ball through the goalpost uprights and over the crossbar.”
No mention of the kick being good if it crosses over one of the uprights. It has to clearly be between the uprights and over the crossbar. Period. Damn. Here we go again.
Browns fans can take only so much. Yeah, the Browns still held a 14-10 lead, but fans of this team, since 1999 anyway, have been down this path too many times to feel even a shred of optimism.
What’s going to go wrong now? What twist of fate awaits us as we watch yet another victory yanked away? Do I have to watch? Must I watch? I can’t take this any longer. Blindfold me.
Hey, it’s just the Jacksonville Jaguars. C’mon now. This isn’t Pittsburgh or Baltimore or Green Bay. It’s the Jags, who are just as bad as the Browns. You just know something is going to go wrong.
After passing on the nitroglycerine pills, we watch as the Jaguars, whose only touchdown of the day was an 18-play, 92-yard drive that took nearly 10 minutes off the clock in the first and second quarters, suddenly begin to replicate that earlier scoring drive.
In that long series, the Browns’ defense whiffed on four third-down opportunities to get off the field. Surely, it couldn’t happen again.
Hey, these are the Cleveland Browns, masters of the bizarre. If there’s a bad play to be made, a dumb play to be made, a boneheaded play to be made, you can almost count on the Browns to make it. Who was it going to be this time?
Raise your hand, Phil Taylor. On a fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 34 with about 90 seconds to go, the big rookie defensive tackle, obviously anxious to make a game-saving play, couldn’t contain his anxiety and crashes the line of scrimmage.
Only one problem. The ball had not been snapped. Encroachment. First down Jacksonville. Yep, it’s happening again. Murphy’s Law out of control. What else could go wrong?
Three incomplete passes later . . . make that two incomplete passes and one pass interference against Browns cornerback Joe Haden later, the Jags have the ball at the Cleveland 14 with about a minute left. Looked like a bogus call as Haden had perfect coverage on Jason Hill. Oh-oh, here we go again. Again.
Browns fans sense the agony of defeat dead ahead, especially after the Jaguars advance to the Cleveland 2. Someone has to make a play. Anyone? Bueller?
The defensive line engulfs miniature Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who killed them in the first half but struggled in the second half, on a first-down carry at the 1. Twenty-five seconds left. Tick, tock, tick tock. Why isn’t Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio calling timeout? He’s got one left. What is he waiting for?
He finally calls it . . . with eight seconds left. Clock management gone wild. Still plenty of time to lose this one, but with a much narrower window of opportunity.
Fans hold their breath as Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert hits Jason Hill in the corner of the end zone on second down, but Hill drops the ball. Could it be? Could it be that Jacksonville is pulling a Cleveland?
Hold on. There are still three seconds left. It’s not over yet. Please pass the Maalox.
Gabbert gets one more shot at the end zone. This time, he targets Mike Thomas running a slant across the end zone as Jones-Drew drifts out of the backfield and comes wide open in the right flat.
Gabbert goes with his first read, but Cleveland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is there to break it up as the Jaguars complete their own version of a Cleveland Browns meltdown.
This was not a pretty victory by any stretch, but it showed brief glimpses of creative football by a Cleveland offense that, when given a chance, is not as bad as initially feared. Coach Pat Shurmur actually tried to play vertical football.
And the offense responded with some entertaining football. It looked relatively crisp compared to the stodgy performances it has given the last six or seven weeks. There was a smoothness, a flow that seemed to be lacking earlier.
Colt McCoy seemed much more comfortable, much more confident as he stepped into his throws. His receivers ran better routes and his offensive line produced some nice holes for Chris Ogbonnaya.
It resulted in scoring drives of 87 yards that required nine plays, and 85 yards that took 12 plays. Another 12-play drive was aborted by a McCoy interception at the goal line, his only mistake of the afternoon.
Bottom line: Two touchdowns on the afternoon. Woo-hoo. First touchdown since the loss in San Francisco on Oct. 31 and the first TD at home since Oct. 2 against Tennessee. Double woo-hoo. It was a veritable bonanza of points by comparison. Not a lot to be sure, but it sure beats cheering for the Phil Dawson Field Goal Machine.
In the next six weeks, we’ll see whether this was an aberration or a sign of things to come as the Browns embark on the roughest part of their schedule.