October 23, 2014

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Jaguars 24, Browns 20: Browns force six turnovers, still find way to lose

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Eric Mangini must’ve spent Sunday night shaking his head in disbelief.

The Browns coach loves to talk about turnovers and their direct correlation to winning. He preaches it so often, his players can quote the statistics.

His team defied the odds Sunday at an EverBank Field filled with empty seats.

More photos below.

The Browns forced six turnovers — and didn’t commit one until a des­peration pass was inter­cepted — yet found a way to lose. Jaguars 24, Browns 20.

It had been more than three years since an NFL team lost when getting six turnovers and finish­ing with a plus-five mar­gin. Buffalo fell to Dallas on Oct. 8, 2007, under the same circumstances. “Typically when you have six turnovers you win the game,” Mangini said.

Two straight late losses have not only ended any talk of a pos­sible playoff run for the Browns (3-7), they’ve stolen much of the momentum and positive vibes created in back-to-back wins over New Orleans and New England.

The Browns had every chance to beat the Jaguars (6-4), but couldn’t deliver the knock­out blow. It came back to haunt them.

“When you have a team by the throat, you got to find a way to choke ’em,” said corner­back Sheldon Brown, who tipped two passes that were intercepted by safety T.J. Ward.

The Browns had a final chance to pull out the win after running back Maurice Jones-Drew gave Jacksonville a 24-20 lead with 1:16 left, two plays after a backbreaking 75-yard screen pass featuring at least four missed tackles.

But the Browns were out of timeouts and had to go 80 yards. Mangini had spent two timeouts when he didn’t like how the defense was aligned and another when rookie quarterback Colt McCoy was slow getting back to the huddle after aggravating an ankle injury on an 18-yard scramble.

They reached the Jacksonville 29-yard line with 13 seconds left, but a pass down the seam bounced off tight end Benjamin Watson at about the 5-yard line and was intercepted at the 3. A catch likely would’ve ended the game, because the Browns would’ve been hard pressed to get to the line to spike the ball to stop the clock.

“It would’ve been very close,” McCoy said.

McCoy’s left foot was in a walking boot after the game. He originally hurt it on a sack early in the third quarter, but said he was good enough to finish. Mangini kept a close watch and agreed.

“I’m glad I stayed with him,” he said.

McCoy led a clutch fourthquarter drive for the second week in a row, but neither came with a win.

“He was doing his best to gut it out mentally and physically,” tight end Evan Moore said. “He’s never throwing in the towel. He’s going to be there until the very end, he’s going to be fighting.”

McCoy is the third Cleveland quarterback to suffer an ankle injury this year, following Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, who was the backup Sunday. McCoy said X-rays don’t show anything, and must be hoping it’s not the high ankle sprain that sidelined the other two for a month. He said it’s good that it’s the left foot rather than his plant foot.

McCoy went 17-for-28 for 241 yards with a touchdown and the final interception for an 85.6 rating. He took a beating as he was sacked six times.

Much of the problem was the inability to run the ball. Coordinator Brian Daboll gave Peyton Hillis 21 opportunities, but he totaled 48 yards and a 2.3 average. He did catch a game-high six passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

The line, which was shuffled again because of injuries, failed to create space on the ground or protect McCoy.

“We just didn’t get it done,” left guard Eric Steinbach said.

Scoring 10 points off turnovers is usually the reason for a victory. This time, it was the cause for the defeat.

Six times, five in the second half, the defense stole the ball and only twice did the Browns capitalize. One of those was safety Abram Elam’s 18-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

Following the other five turnovers, the offense managed a mere field goal. McCoy didn’t have a completion and the Browns didn’t have a first down. “Everyone knew we didn’t do enough,” receiver Chansi Stuckey said. “We didn’t get enough points, we didn’t convert on third down to keep drives going.”

Receiver/all-around playmaker Joshua Cribbs was clearly missed as he stayed in Cleveland with dislocated toes. Mohamed Massaquoi and Stuckey each caught four passes, but the long gain was 17 yards.

Jones-Drew had four times that on the play that decided the game. On the final play before the two-minute warning, he took a screen 75 yards to the 1-yard line. Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, Brown, nickelback Eric King and Ward missed tackles.

“I’ve just got to make a play on him and bring him down,” said Ward, who also missed a tackle on Santonio Holmes’ winning 37-yard catch-andrun last week in an overtime loss to the Jets. “I had my hands on him. That’s a good enough shot.”

When it mattered most, the defense couldn’t make a play. The Browns led 17-10 before David Garrard (20-for-34 for 254 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions, 65.1 rating) found tight end Marcedes Lewis in a mismatch with reserve safety Bubba Ventrone for a 14-yard touchdown on third-and-goal with 3:34 left.

McCoy led a 57-yard drive that ended with a 41-yard Phil Dawson field goal with 2:46 left to regain the lead, 20-17. But Jones-Drew broke the big one.

“We couldn’t stop them when we had to,” Mangini said. The loss overshadowed a big day by the secondary. Elam added an interception of Jones-Drew to his touchdown, and rookie Joe Haden had his third pick of the year.

The Browns entered the game undermanned because of injuries and couldn’t afford mistakes. They made too many.

They had five penalties in the first half, and Dawson missed a pair of 51-yard field goals that would’ve put more pressure on the Jaguars. Instead, they never trailed by more than seven.

“I hit it where I was aiming, the ball didn’t do what I thought it’d do in the air and didn’t go through,” Dawson said. “I’m not perfect. I make mistakes.

“You play long enough, you’re going to have days like it.”

For the entire Browns team, this was one of those days.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.