July 22, 2014

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Scott Petrak: Browns veteran D’Qwell Jackson can be excused for choosing to look on bright side of latest frustrating loss

Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, left, and T.J. Ward tackle New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, left, and T.J. Ward tackle New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson didn’t need long to find the silver lining in the 27-26 loss Sunday to the Patriots.

For nearly three quarters the Browns kept Tom Brady out of the end zone. For 57-plus minutes they outplayed and outschemed Bill Belichick, the genius himself.

So even a heartbreaking, mindboggling loss couldn’t dim Jackson’s spirits in the minutes following the game.

“I feel great about this team right now,” Jackson said. “I like the direction we’re moving in.”

The reaction caught me a bit off-guard. The Browns had just lost their fourth straight and seventh in eight games, yet the greatest leader on the team wasn’t devastated by another one that got away. Instead of sitting slumped with his head in his hands, he stood tall — and proud.

For the fans at home, or who made the trip to New England, I imagine the 20 minutes (or two days) after the game were filled with different emotions. Bewilderment, raging disappointment and disgust, deja vu (not exactly an emotion).

So Jackson’s upbeat disposition must’ve gone over as well as an onside kick bouncing off Fozzy Whittaker’s gut. People have heard about progress and potential for a decade and a half. The bright future is impossible to see from the pitch-black present.

While I also appreciate the irritation of nose tackle Phil Taylor and linebacker Paul Kruger after the loss, there’s nothing wrong with Jackson looking on the bright side.

He’s been losing for six years. If he wants to focus on the positives and believe better days are ahead, he’s earned the right. And fans should hope he’s right.

“I get the frustration by the fans and the community,” he said. “If I could say anything to the fans, we’re moving in the right direction. We really are.”

Jackson doesn’t lack motivation to get better. He doesn’t think the Browns have arrived. He won’t allow his young teammates to get complacent.

While the long-suffering fans are entitled to their rage and frustration, it would be counterproductive for a player to report for practice every day dwelling on the history of losing. He must believe his sacrifices and hard work will pay off.

That Jackson saw the dividends in a gut-wrenching loss may be premature. But it says nothing about his commitment or desire to win.
And who knows, the hard-to-fathom and hard-to-take loss to the Patriots just might be the moment where Cleveland’s fortunes turned for the better.

Head above knees

There are plenty of things I don’t understand. A couple of them have to do with the angst over offensive players suffering serious knee injuries because of low hits from defenders.

I do get that a torn anterior cruciate ligament is a season-ender and could negatively affect the career and money-making ability of the injured player.

But why do people act like defenders never went low before the league increased the focus and penalties on hits to the head? For decades defensive backs have gone low because they’re smaller than the tight ends and running backs they’re trying to tackle. It’s also an effective way to make a tackle.

The conversation picked up again after Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was lost for the season when Browns safety T.J. Ward hit him directly in the knee, tearing the ACL.

Ward could’ve easily bounced off Gronkowski — who has 8 inches and 65 pounds on Ward — if he had tried to hit him in the thighs or chest as some onlookers would suggest. Ward accomplished his primary goal — to get Gronkowski to the ground.

Ward’s secondary goals were also met. He didn’t draw a penalty and won’t incur a fine from the league. Both are possible with an attempt to hit the receiver in the upper body.

What I really don’t understand is why several players, former player and analysts treat a torn ACL as if it’s worse than a concussion. Haven’t we all seen the brain research? Don’t we appreciate that the brain is more important than the knee for life after football?

The outrage over the low hit couldn’t be more short-sighted.

It’s also impossible to legislate both high and low hits out of the game. Defenders need a reasonable target area, and they would be more susceptible to injuries if the only section they were allowed to hit was the all-muscle area from the thighs to the chest.

The hit to the lower leg is a better alternative than the concussion-causing missile shot to the helmet, even if there are a few more torn ACLs. Period.

Ward is an interesting person to be in the middle of this. He changed his ways after multiple fines for hits to the head, yet told me recently if given a choice he’d take two concussions over one torn ACL. The reason’s simple: The recovery time is usually shorter.

But he didn’t have a quick answer when I asked which injury his mother and girlfriend would prefer he suffered. If Mom picks knee injury, then low hits are clearly better than high ones.

Final thoughts

The Browns rank 27th in scoring with 19.8 points a game, but coordinator Norv Turner deserves a lot of credit for his first season in Cleveland. Not only have receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron blossomed in his system, he found a way to get both open repeatedly against Belichick’s schemes designed to stop them.

* I was hard on the defense after the late collapse against Jacksonville, but can’t assign too much blame there for the blown lead in New England. Coordinator Ray Horton called for a soft zone on the second-last touchdown drive, just trying to force Brady to use as much time as possible.

Sure, a turnover or stop would’ve won the game, but the first objective was to not give up a quick score.

The assumption has to be that the special teams will recover the onside kick. The failure there and two poor calls from the officials then put the defense in a nearly impossible spot against Brady.

* Yes, it was a perfectly executed onside kick by Stephen Gostkowski, but I have to believe the Browns erred in design by not devoting more attention to the middle of the field.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.

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WHO: Cleveland vs. Chicago
WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.
WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium
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