CINCINNATI — Punter Spencer Lanning saw way too much orange Sunday.
Cleveland’s normally solid special teams unit melted down in the decisive and disastrous second quarter and played a pivotal role in the 41-20 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
On two kicks in the second quarter, the Bengals — who wore orange jerseys — got a free rusher and a piece of the ball. One was deflected for a 9-yard punt, the other blocked completely and returned for a touchdown.
“Timing was fine,” Lanning said. “You see orange. You know it’s coming but you can’t back off on the swing. I try to swing hard. You never know what’s going to happen. He could have easily run in front of me or run by me.”
Shawn Williams deflected Lanning’s second punt of the game, which led to a 38-yard touchdown drive and a 14-13 lead the Bengals never surrendered. Jayson DiManche got a handful two punts later and Tony Dye returned it 24 yards for a touchdown and 21-13 advantage.
“It’s a breakdown in fundamentals and it’s an important part of the game,” Lanning said. “We’ll watch film and ultimately this will make us a stronger team.”
The deflection doesn’t count as a block because the kick crossed the line of scrimmage. The second block counted and was the first allowed by the Browns since 1993. Lanning said he hadn’t had a punt blocked since his sophomore year at South Carolina.
“We’ll go back and take a look at those plays and see what went wrong, but that is unacceptable,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “Our protection has been solid up until now, and we’ll see what happened in this game and fix it.”
Rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo’s stat line wasn’t one for the scrapbook. He had a solo tackle and an assist on defense, a special teams tackle, no sacks, no quarterback hits, no turnovers forced. And one giant missed assignment on DiManche’s block.
Mingo, the No. 6 pick in the draft, stood in front of reporters and took the blame.
“It was my job to do and I didn’t do it,” he said.
DiManche came off the left side of the punt rush, and Mingo was supposed to stop him. But DiManche made a move to the inside and Mingo let him go, apparently thinking personal protector Chris Ogbonnaya would block him.
DiManche was through the crease before Ogbonnaya could stop him and reached Lanning. Dye eventually got a handle on the bouncing ball, sprang to his feet and ran 24 yards for a touchdown.
“We can’t let that happen,” Mingo said. “We’ve got to show up and be better.”
“I felt a guy coming from my right side,” Ogbonnaya said. “Until I see the tape I don’t know what happened, if there was a miscommunication on the line or what-not. But that’s something we needed to get sorted out ASAP.”
Dye was making his NFL debut after being activated from the practice squad.
“It was pretty hard,” Dye said of picking up the loose ball. “I’m not going to lie. I guess that’s why I didn’t get it the first two times.”
On the partial block, Christian Yount’s snap made Lanning shift to his right and Williams’ stretch was enough to alter the flight. Lanning said the snap was fine.
“I caught it clean, walked upfield and hit my line and the guy barely got a piece of it,” he said.
“I just kept coming in and tried to run by the guy before he could get his head up — that’s all it was,” Williams said. “There wasn’t a secret to it.”
The punting woes weren’t over. Adam Jones returned the final one of the first half 27 yards to set up Mike Nugent’s 41-yard field goal with a second left.
“You give up a blocked punt and they have to hang in a little more,” Lanning said of the coverage team. “You get an undesirable punt in the middle of the field and that’s on me. We had him hemmed up and he just came the other way.”
The special teams put the offense and defense in a hole they couldn’t escape.
“We’ve got to definitely tighten up on our stuff,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “Their special teams stepped up.”