July 30, 2014

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Browns facing a Giant hurdle: Ugly preseason loss in New York began season’s downward spiral

BEREA — The slide from up-and-coming team to afterthought started Aug. 18 in the swamps of New Jersey in a sea of ugly brown pants.
The Browns entered the Meadowlands eager to show ESPN’s preseason “Monday Night Football” audience they were deserving of a regular-season schedule with five prime-time games. They stumbled out of Giants Stadium with their confidence shattered, their health in shambles, the brown pants banished to the closet and the rest of the country thoroughly unimpressed.
After a winless preseason and a 1-3 start to the real season, it’s obvious they haven’t recovered.
“We feel we were a little embarrassed, especially it being national television,” receiver/returner Joshua Cribbs said Monday. “We didn’t put our best foot forward.”
It was more like they tried to run with their feet tied together.
After Phil Dawson kicked a 56-yard field goal, the Giants scored 30 straight points in 9:32 of the first half on the way to a 37-34 win.
“We had that spell of 5 to 10 minutes where we lost our minds,” general manager Phil Savage said after the preseason.
The Giants visit Cleveland on Monday night for an ESPN rematch, so the last meeting was a hot topic in the locker room as the Browns returned from their bye week.
“Everything that could have went wrong went wrong that game,” linebacker Andra Davis said.
The Browns had six penalties for 98 yards in the first quarter, a punt blocked for a safety, the ensuing free kick returned 82 yards for a touchdown and a fumbled handoff returned 95 yards for a touchdown.
“They were up 14-3 with maybe two minutes to go in the first quarter, and the next time the film clicks over it’s 30-3,” said coach Romeo Crennel, who blamed bad choices and poor execution. “They made some plays, we screwed it up, too. We helped them quite a bit.”
“We knew after the game — a pass interference, personal fouls, Sean Jones slipped and the dude caught the ball,” said Davis, who was penalized 15 yards for taking a swing at a Giant and missing. “Everything went wrong. And the injuries.”
The loss might not have had the same impact if not for a series of injuries that lingered into the regular season. Quarterback Derek Anderson and safety Brodney Pool suffered concussions, running back Jamal Lewis injured a hamstring trying to chase down James Butler after the botched handoff, Cribbs sustained a high ankle sprain and linebacker Willie McGinest strained a groin.
Pool missed the opener, Cribbs missed the opener and has yet to return to 100 percent and Anderson hasn’t found his Pro Bowl form after missing the rest of the preseason.
The Browns have regained some of their health, and should benefit from the debuts of receiver Donte Stallworth and offensive lineman Ryan Tucker on Monday night. It’s also a chance to get back some of the swagger lost on that dark August night in New Jersey.
“That game showed what we’re doing right now,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “A bunch of penalties, a bunch of bad football, as Romeo says.
“We have to get it fixed and right now would be the perfect time to do it. We get this game, the momentum swings, everybody’s talking about us again.”
The only time anybody mentions the Browns these days is to rip them. Meanwhile, the 4-0 Giants are fresh off a 44-6 win Sunday over the Seahawks and are being heralded as the NFL’s best team.
And the Super Bowl champs began their title defense in earnest when they showed the rest of the league they were still hungry with their rout of the Browns in August.
“They embarrassed us. That will add an extra chip on our shoulder,” Cribbs said. “We want that win most of all. We’re looking for some payback.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.