NFL

Browns' Little unhappy with drops

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BEREA, Ohio (AP)

Browns rookie wide receiver Greg Little took the football he caught for his first NFL touchdown home as a souvenir from Cincinnati and placed it on a nightstand.

That one he didn't drop.

On Sunday, Little dropped four passes, including one in the final minute that would have given Cleveland a first down, and cost the Browns in their 23-20 loss to the Bengals. Little's mistakes, compounded by him dressing quickly and leaving the locker room before talking to the media afterward, soured an otherwise memorable day for the second-round draft pick.

''I feel like it was a milestone I accomplished in both respects,'' Little said Monday. ''The touchdown was great, but I just got to do a better job of focusing and ensuring the catch. ... It's just a bad day.''

Little certainly wasn't the only offender for the Browns (4-7), who failed to build on a 10-point lead in the third quarter and couldn't put away the Bengals (7-4). A botched snap on a field-goal attempt - the second for Cleveland in three weeks - also doomed the Browns, dropping them to 3-17 inside the AFC North over the past three seasons.

Little's gaffes became magnified when Bengals rookie wide receiver A.J. Green made a leaping catch for a 51-yard gain to set up Cincinnati's go-ahead field goal with 38 seconds left. Little admitted he wanted to show he could perform on the same level as Green, the fourth overall selection in this year's draft.

''All the stars were aligned to come out and either I was going to play better or he was going to play better,'' he said. ''He made two big plays and I made kind of one. He's a very good player in some of the things he does and so am I. I just didn't have the day that he had.''

Little was targeted 13 times by quarterback Colt McCoy and finished with five receptions for 57 yards. Not long after one of his drops, he made a 3-yard scoring catch in the second quarter for his first points as a pro. Instead of an outlandish celebration, he tucked the ball under his arm and headed to the sideline, acting as if he had been in the end zone before.

However, all of Little's positive plays were overshadowed by the drops, which he likened to having a rough day in the gym.

''It was kind of like, man, when basketball players have a bad day shooting free throws,'' he said. ''It's just something that sometimes you just can't throw it in the ocean, sometimes you just can't ever hang onto it. It's definitely just something I can just learn and grow from.''

Browns coach Pat Shurmur was blunt in his assessment of Little's day.

''He dropped too many balls,'' Shurmur said. ''Catching the football is very important - focus and concentration. Forget the last play and move on to the next play. I don't expect that to be a trend. I expect it to be something he'll learn from. I'm excited about him getting out there to practice so we can work on that not happening again.''

Little's passion and exuberance has endeared him to Shurmur and the Browns' coaching staff, who have given the 22-year-old a lot to handle in his first season. They believe he can be a playmaker, and perhaps, a star. Little quickly went from being one of Cleveland's wide receivers to their top one.

Shurmur doesn't think he has thrown too much at Little, who came in rusty after missing his senior season at North Carolina because of a suspension. He no longer views Little as a rookie.

''He's played a lot of football, and he's steadily become more and more productive, and more and more professional,'' he said. ''And I expect this and the fact that he didn't speak or answer questions tells me it bothered him. Now, that's not the proper way to handle it, but it tells me it bothered him, and I can work with that, because I think it matters to him and I think he'll find a way to listen to us when we try to help him.''

Shurmur doesn't feel Little's drops were related to poor technique.

''It's focus and concentration, and the ball placed accurately,'' he said. ''And if it's not, hey when the ball's in the air, it's ours and that's got to be the mindset, wherever the ball is thrown. You can't drop footballs. You have to be able to throw and catch in this league.''

Little won't make any drastic changes this week as the Browns prepare to host Baltimore (8-3), the first of four games against the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) in the final five weeks. He'll mostly stick to his routine, but expects to put in some extra time following practice to work on his catching skills.

It's that commitment that has Little's coaches and teammates excited about his future.

They can handle it if he acts a little cocky and self-assured. That comes with the territory. As long as Little works hard, and takes any criticism constructively, the sky's the limit.

Little wants to get there.

''You want to be the player where great things are expected of you,'' he said. ''I always want to be that and with that comes great scrutiny too. I can take as many blows as anyone can dish out and I'll be fine. I think I've kind of shown that I have the ability. I've just kind of got to do it every week.''

Notes: With long snapper Ryan Pontbriand making two poor snaps in three weeks, Shurmur hinted there could be changes at the position. ''We've had discussions behind the scenes and haven't finalized our thoughts on that,'' he said. ''It's important that we all produce and produce well. We can't be in slumps.'' ... LB Scott Fujita will have surgery on his broken right hand later this week and may be placed on injured reserve. ... Shurmur appreciates WR Josh Cribbs' frustration at losing. After Sunday's game, Cribbs vented without being specific. ''You want guys that are disappointed,'' Shurmur said. ''The ones that don't care, those are the ones that are tough to reach.'' ... RB Peyton Hillis (hamstring) had no setbacks in his first game since Oct. 16, Shurmur said. RB Montario Hardesty's right calf tightened in pregame warm-ups, forcing him to miss his fourth game in a row. ... FB Owen Marecic (concussion) was inactive Sunday, but is expected back to face the Ravens.

Tagged: Bengals, Browns, Greg Little

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