April 18, 2014

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Browns notes: Coach Rob Chudzinski defends Fozzy Whittaker’s play on costly onside kick against Patriots

Cleveland Browns running back Fozzy Whittaker runs from New England Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones in the second quarter on Sunday. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Cleveland Browns running back Fozzy Whittaker runs from New England Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones in the second quarter on Sunday. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BEREA — Running back Fozzy Whittaker made the wrong play in the wrong place at the wrong time Sunday, allowing New England to pull off its first successful onside kick since Jan. 1, 1995.

Yet coach Rob Chudzinski refused to second-guess the sequence that allowed the Patriots to score the winning points in a 27-26 victory at Gillette Stadium.

“Getting the ball in those type of situations, it’s a scrum, and we just weren’t able to come up with it,” Chudzinski said Monday. “On the middle bunt, as they start coming in and their guys start converging into the middle, we slide and go.

“You go get the ball in that case, but it was a great kick by (Stephen) Gostkowski. Fozzy charged the ball. He did. He just was unable to get it.”

Gostkowski squibbed the ball directly in front of him with 1:01 left and the Browns holding a 26-21 lead. The ball bounced off Whittaker’s midsection, allowing New England cornerback Kyle Arrington to pounce on it.

Chudzinski said Whittaker is initially assigned to block from his spot on the “good hands” team, but went after the ball once he saw Gostkowski was going to make a play as soon as it traveled the required 10 yards.

“I just hoped it wasn’t a flag because I thought one of their guys hit it first, but I wasn’t sure and I recovered it at the 9¾-yard line,” Arrington said. “The ball was cold, a little slippery, so my job was just to try and be around it. It was just a good, legal play.”

CBS television cameras showed Cleveland running back Chris Ogbonnaya apparently gesturing frantically toward the bench a split-second before Gostkowski’s kickoff, but Chudzinski said that wasn’t the case.

The coach explained that Ogbonnaya was asking which side to lean toward, since the Patriots had six players lined up on the right side of Gostkowski and four on the left. He added that there was no confusion as Whittaker, Ogbonnaya and safety Tashaun Gipson were in their proper positions.

For the record, receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron were in the second tier, about 10 yards behind the front line of Browns.

“Oby was looking over at how wide we wanted him based on that formation,” Chudzinski said. “He was fine where he was in splitting the difference. As they broke and came more inside, again, we converge, and we were fine in terms of that.”

Major honor

Strong safety T.J. Ward was chosen by his teammates as the Browns’ recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. The annual honor is given to the player who exemplifies the qualities of former Baltimore Colts trainer Ed Block: courage, compassion, commitment and community.

Ward suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2012, but has stormed back with 106 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, seven passes defensed, two interceptions and his first interception return for a touchdown.

“I want to say thank you, and it means a lot to be chosen as the winner of this award by my teammates and peers,” said Ward, who has played in all 13 games this season. “A lot of guys go through injuries, like other guys on the list — Phil Taylor and Jason Pinkston — so it was definitely an honor.”

The fourth-year pro from Oregon said he took special pride in learning that Cleveland’s training staff nominated him. Taylor has made a strong recovery from a torn pectoral, while Pinkston overcame blood clots in his lungs.

“They bounced back from some very serious injuries and came back and played, but yet my teammates felt that I bounced back the strongest,” Ward said. “It really could have been any of the three of us to win that honor, but I’m glad that I did.”

The 32 team winners will be honored at an offseason event in Baltimore, while Ward will receive his team award tonight at Providence House’s Deck the House Benefit at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Two for tea

The Browns attempted a 2-point conversion early in the third quarter, but Ogbonnaya failed to reach the end zone on a run up the middle to keep the score at 12-0. The Patriots scored a 2-pointer later in the quarter on a pass from Tom Brady to receiver Julian Edelman.

Chudzinski said he had no regrets about going for two with 25:15 remaining.

“Hindsight is always 20/20, but at the end of the day, you try to play the percentages,” he said. “The book I have is the one that says, ‘Go for two.’ You look at the percentages and then you play a hunch, but certainly knowing how New England can score played a part into it.”

Cleveland is 1-for-2 this season on 2-point tries, while its opponents are 2-for-3. The league-wide success rate is 49 percent.

Brownie bits

Left guard John Greco (sprained knee) and running back Willis McGahee (concussion) will have their status updated Wednesday.

Greco was replaced by Jason Pinkston in the second quarter and did not return. McGahee exited in the fourth and is being treated under the NFL’s concussion protocol.

* Quarterback Caleb Hanie served as Jason Campbell’s backup against the Patriots because Chudzinski “felt like he would be better in that position (than Alex Tanney) if he had to go in.”

Hanie has made four NFL starts with the Bears, while Tanney has not taken a regular-season snap.

Quote of the day

“Cleveland did a good job. They outcoached us and outplayed us in every area. Fortunately, we were able to make some plays and score pretty quickly at the end of the game, where a lot of things had to go right.” — Patriots coach Bill Belichick

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.