October 1, 2014

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Browns’ loss to Raiders still feels like a kick in the gut

BEREA — A cross-country flight home and several hours of sleep did nothing to make the Browns feel any better about their 26-24 loss Sunday in Oakland.
In fact, having a day to reflect on the Raiders blocking Phil Dawson’s 40-yard field goal as time expired appeared to make Cleveland’s players feel even worse about what transpired.
“We played bad yesterday, but we still had a chance to win at the end,’’ wide receiver Braylon Edwards said Monday. “I feel like we fought hard enough to win, so it hurts. Obviously, we came out flat, but I can’t tell you why.
“We fought hard, don’t get me wrong, we just fought too late. You can’t do that.’’
Had Dawson’s field goal sailed through the uprights — instead of bonking off the hands of Oakland’s Tommy Kelly — the Browns would have posted back-to-back victories for the first time in a season since 2003.
It also would have capped a dramatic comeback from 16 points down and showed that Cleveland is finally finding ways to win close games.
None of that happened, though, because the left side of the Browns’ line was overwhelmed by a trio of Oakland invaders on Dawson’s kick.
“We did a nice job of coming back and getting in a position to win the game, but we relaxed and got a kick blocked and did not win,’’ coach Romeo Crennel said.
“It’s pretty frustrating because, as a coach, you can coach them during the week, but during the game, all you can do is stand on the sideline. We’ve got to be a lot better than we were yesterday.’’
Adding salt to Cleveland’s wounds was the way the final three seconds played out. Dawson actually split the uprights on his first try from 40 yards away, but Raiders coach Lane Kiffin signaled for a timeout just before the ball was snapped — unbeknownst to the Browns.
When the teams set themselves for a second kick, Oakland was able to penetrate the “A/B gap’’ between Nat Dorsey and Seth McKinney, and break into the backfield.
Dawson’s second try never stood a chance. If Kelly hadn’t blocked it, one of the other Raiders likely would have.
“On the ensuing kick, they must have been able to get more energy than we did, and they blocked the kick,’’ Crennel said, measuring his words carefully. “After we made the first one, I felt like we could have made the re-kick.’’
Somewhat surprisingly, neither Crennel nor many of his players expressed anger over the timing of Kiffin’s stoppage. Prior to 2004, coaches were not allowed to call timeouts during NFL games.
Oakland went through the same situation one week earlier against Denver when Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski’s game-winning field goal was wiped out by a late timeout. He missed the subsequent try, allowing the Broncos to win the game in overtime.
“I had no problem with it,’’ said tight end Darnell Dinkins, who was part of Dawson’s protection unit. “At the end of the day, the timeout didn’t cause us to lose. Execution did.’’
Among the Browns players who made themselves available to the media, only Edwards spoke out against the rule, but not Kiffin’s decision to use it.
“I think that’s a sucker rule,’’ Edwards said calmly. “I’m not trying to criticize the NFL or (commissioner) Roger Goodell, but it really affects the kicker, the protection and the emotion of the team. It changes everything.’’
Everything, in this case, is clearly spelled out in the standings, where Cleveland is 1-2 — instead of 2-1 — as it prepares to host Baltimore on Sunday.
With the Ravens and Patriots next on the Browns’ schedule, is it possible the crushing loss in Oakland could send their entire season down the drain?
“Look, it’s not like we’ll fold up camp and stop playing,’’ countered wide receiver Joe Jurevicius. “I’m not gonna cry over spilled milk because there is nothing we can do about Sunday’s loss.
“We can be in the same position again. We’re 1-2, but we’re one game away from being 2-2. I’m telling you, we’re getting better.’’
Contact Brian Dulik at sports@ohio.net.