KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Davone Bess was billed as Mr. Reliable when the Browns traded for him during the draft in April.
He’s been anything but through eight weeks with Cleveland.
Bess’ disappointing year took a turn toward dismal Sunday in a 23-17 loss to the 8-0 Chiefs. Bess had three drops as a receiver and fumbled a punt, killing the Browns’ chances to rally.
“I had a bad game,” he said. “Gotta look at the tape and go through it. You can’t make critical mistakes in critical situations. That’s the bottom line.”
Bess was back to field the punt with 7:13 left in the game because Travis Benjamin was out with a sprained knee. But that can’t be used as an excuse. Bess has fielded 207 punts in his six-year career and was summoned by coach Rob Chudzinski earlier in the year when he expected a fair catch and wanted good hands.
Dustin Colquitt’s punt from the 10-yard line was short and Bess ran up to catch it at midfield. He never had it fully secured and it popped out after two steps. Linebacker Frank Zombo recovered for Kansas City at its 47.
“I just tried to come up and field it and I muffed it,” Bess said. “No excuse. I got to catch it.”
The Browns got another shot to go ahead, still trailing 20-17 but with 3:55 left after Bess called for a fair catch at the 16-yard line.
The extra opportunity only gave Bess another chance to mess up. On fourth-and-7 from the Cleveland 31-yard line, quarterback Jason Campbell was flushed from the pocket and rolled toward the right sideline.
“It was one of those plays where you don’t have any timeouts left and you can’t just go down,” Campbell said. “I was trying to do everything I could to stay inbounds and not cross the line and see if someone would pop open, and at the last minute I saw Davone kind of in the middle so I tried to flick it to him real quick.”
Campbell’s strong arm got the ball to Bess, who had gone into a slide. The ball hit him in the gut and bounced out. Bess remained on his backside for a few seconds because the game was effectively over.
Bess, 28, looked like he would’ve had the first down if he hung on, although it would’ve been close because his momentum was taking him back toward the line.
“I don’t know if he would have rolled short of the first down or not,” Chudzinski said. “Davone is everything you could ask for in a pro and how he approaches (the game) and what he does. Those are plays that he wishes he could have back and nobody feels worse than Davone on those plays. We just have to be better next game.”
Campbell stuck by his receiver, who caught three of eight targets for 27 yards.
“Davone is a really good receiver,” Campbell said. “Everyone has those days in the NFL. You play this game long enough, you’re going to have a day like that.
“I still have all the confidence in the world in him. It wasn’t his fault right before the half, I put a ball right behind him. He’s a tremendous player and asset to our team. We don’t get down on someone because of one bad game.”
It was Campbell’s first start, but not Bess’ first bad game. He had three drops, including the one Campbell blamed on himself, to take his season total to eight. He dropped eight all of last year with Miami.
Bess talked Friday about bouncing back from his rough start. Yet on his first chance Sunday he dropped an in route, making it three straight games in which he dropped his first ball.
“There is no excuse for it,” he said. “I pride myself on catching the ball. No excuse for it.”
At the season’s midpoint, Bess is third on the team with 28 catches for 261 yards (9.3 average) and no touchdowns. He’s on pace for the fewest yards and touchdowns of his career. He had 61 catches for 778 yards and a touchdown in 13 games for Miami last year.
“He’s a competitor. As a player, we’re our own worst critics,” Campbell said. “He’s a guy that’s going to bounce back. I felt for him because I know how hard he works and how good he is. He’s a guy that you just put your arm around him and say, “Hey, brother, I’m here to pick you up,” and you move on to the next one.”
Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said Bess will be fine.
“He’s overcome a lot of things in his life, and he’s a savvy pro,” Jackson said. “He works hard, he’s a great leader for this team. I’m not worried about him one bit.”