Browns regroup after snap blunder

As tough as it might be for them to accept, the Cleveland Browns
were beaten by the Cincinnati Bengals – fair and square.

The quick snap was lethal and legal.

The Bengals did not violate the NFL’s substitution rule when
they caught the Browns’ defense still huddling in the fourth
quarter Sunday and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski alertly threw a
41-yard touchdown pass, a person familiar with the ruling told the
Associated Press on Monday.

Gradkowski’s toss to rookie A.J. Green with 4:31 left came after
a legal snap with 14 seconds left on the play clock, said the
person who spoke on condition of anonymity because play reviews
between the league and teams are kept confidential. The source said
the Browns had ”ample time” to substitute before the ill-fated
play, which will now be added to Cleveland’s long list of
heartbreaking plays.

Unlike most of the others, this one was preventable.

”It’s a disappointing play,” linebacker Scott Fujita said.
”They caught the whole organization asleep on that one.”

As the Browns’ defense was waiting for a call to come in from
the sideline, the Bengals hurried to the line and snapped the ball.
Green, who had not caught a pass the entire game, hauled in
Gradkowski’s toss and easily outran cornerback Joe Haden for the TD
to give Cincinnati a 20-17 lead.

On Sunday, Browns first-year coach Pat Shurmur wasn’t sure if
what the Bengals had done was permissible.

After reviewing videotape, Shurmur’s tone changed.

”There are no excuses,” he said. ”If they no-huddle or quick
huddle, we have to get out there and cover. If that doesn’t happen
properly, let’s call a timeout. It got snapped so quickly, we
couldn’t really get it because you’re initially trying to get
everybody where they need to be.

”It’s something we’ll work on. We’ll make sure it never happens
again.”

Because players were not running on and off the field, there was
nothing unusual about what was happening before the snap, the
source said. If the side officials had determined the Bengals had
gotten an unfair advantage, they would have raised their arms and
stopped the play before the snap.

The only thing the officials failed to notice was that Cleveland
had 12 players in the huddle.

There’s no doubt the Browns were confused.

With the Bengals facing a third-and-11, Cleveland’s coaching
staff wanted to get the proper coverage package on the field.
Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson sent in rookie nickelback
Buster Skrine, not realizing that Dimitri Patterson, who had sat
out the previous play with an ankle injury, was already back on the
field.

Patterson said he forgot to tell Henderson he was going back
in.

As the Browns waited for linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to give them
the defensive call, the Bengals broke their huddle, snapped the
ball and caught Cleveland’s players squeezing in an afternoon
nap.

”We all had our eyes on D’Qwell,” Fujita said. ”It was one of
those things that we were in the middle of a personnel change and
everything was just kind of frozen and then, bam, they came out in
2-point stances. I think they had been gearing up to do that, and
we were slow coming out of the huddle earlier, but that’s on all of
us.

”We just have to be quicker and have a greater sense of
urgency.”

Still, the Browns could have stopped the Bengals simply by using
one of their three timeouts. Surely there were enough eyes on the
sideline that someone, anyone, noticed the Bengals were about to
get away with some planned trickery. However, not one person on
Cleveland’s sideline asked the officials to halt play.

Shurmur said in those situations it’s up to him and the coaching
staff to call time or for one of his defensive players to signal
for a stoppage.

None of them did. Fujita regrets not doing it himself.

”I should have called it,” he said. ”Generally, we are
supposed to get permission from the sideline before we can call a
timeout on defense. But me being the crusty old bastard I am, I
should have noticed it and I should have called it.”

Fujita said the Browns have only themselves to blame for getting
beat on the controversial play.

”Whether it was (legal) or not, no one really cares,” he said.
”We should have had better consciousness to what was going on on
the field and on the sidelines the same thing, just from the top
down, it was not good for anyone of us.”

Shurmur wasn’t going to blame one play for the Browns losing
another season opener, his debut as coach.

He lamented too many penalties, poor execution on offense and a
young roster that has to grow up. Shurmur saw enough positives to
believe his team will rebound next week at Indianapolis. There’s
time to correct the mistakes in practice, especially getting out of
the huddle on time.

If it happens again, the Browns will be ready.

”Regardless what happens, when they line up with two wideouts
out there, we have to cover,” Shurmur said. ”I don’t care if
we’re all standing in the middle holding hands – somebody has to
cover those guys. We practice it, they know it. It’s a hard lesson
to learn.”

Notes: Shurmur wouldn’t say if P Richmond McGee, who averaged 36
yards on eight kicks in his debut, had lost his job. But Shurmur
said the team was ”evaluating” the position. … RT Tony Pashos
missed Sunday’s game with a foot injury and Shurmur said it’s
possible the big man could sit out against the Colts as well.