Peyton Hillis burst through the line and pulled up suddenly after apparently hurting himself again. As his teammates looked on, Hillis slammed the ball to the ground and flung his orange helmet away in disgust.
A miserable, misguided season had taken another bizarre twist.
Hillis re-injured his left hamstring during practice on Friday, the latest moment of drama for the Browns bruising back whose second year with Cleveland has been one misadventure after the next.
Hillis, who has missed Cleveland’s past two games with the injury, will likely sit out Sunday’s game at Houston – yet another setback for the 25-year-old, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards last season, endeared himself to Cleveland fans with his bulldozing style and earned the cover of the "Madden NFL ’12" video, a tribute some warned was a curse.
In Hillis’ case, it’s been just that.
Hillis had only returned to practice Thursday for the first time since last week. The Browns (3-4) had hoped he would be back to face the Texans and their No. 3 ranked defense. But it appears Hillis, who has rushed for only 211 yards amid weeks of distractions this season, will have to sit out another game.
After getting an MRI, Hillis, who initially hurt his hamstring on Oct. 16 against Oakland, was dropped off at the Browns’ training facility Friday afternoon with his left leg heavily wrapped. He limped badly as he crossed the parking lot and entered the building, carrying the test results in his right hand.
He’s been staggering all season.
Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who has spent the past few weeks devising game plans that didn’t include Hillis, said the team is prepared to play again without him. Hillis is listed as "questionable" on the Browns’ final injury report.
"Unfortunately, if he’s not ready to go we just move on and I think that’s the mindset at any position," he said. "I’m sure if he can’t play this week then I’m sure he’ll be frustrated by that, but the key is to do everything in his power to get healthy so he can play."
Hillis’ season has played out like a daytime TV soap opera.
His hopes of getting a long-term contract from the Browns, who have signed several veterans to extensions this season, became a public debate before Browns president Mike Holmgren – and later Hillis – declared there would be no more talk about it until after the season. Hillis also caused a stir when he decided to sit out a Sept. 25 game against Miami with a case of strep throat.
That decision, which Hillis made on the advice of his agent, raised the eyebrows of a few teammates who wondered if his contract played a factor. On top of that, Hillis got married in Arkansas during a work week, missing an injury treatment in the process, and then skipped a children’s Halloween charity event, blaming his absence on a "miscommunication" with his management.
Also, TV cameras caught Hillis engaged in a competition on the field before last week’s game in San Francisco trying to throw footballs off the goal post’s crossbar.
Those actions, and apparently some others, triggered a response from his teammates.
According to a story published Friday by Yahoo! Sports, a group of players pulled Hillis aside Wednesday for an "intervention-style, air-clearing session."
A player who was there confirmed the meeting for The Associated Press, describing it as "a very positive conversation … wouldn’t quite call it an intervention."
Browns players have been asked – on the record – all season about Hillis being a distraction, and to a man they have pledged support to their beleaguered teammate, saying they hoped he could get healthy and turn his season around.
On Wednesday, Hillis was asked by the AP if he felt things were good between with he and his teammates.
"Me and the teammates are great," he said. "There’s never been a problem there. From my point of view, from my standpoint, from what I know, from what I’ve heard, I think everything’s great. Guys in the locker room, they understand a lot of situations, and other situations that they probably don’t understand, you talk about it with them, then you understand.
"I don’t think it’s ever been a problem."
The injuries to Hillis and his backup, Montario Hardesty, who could miss several games with a calf injury suffered last week, means Chris Ogbonnaya will likely start Sunday. With Hillis’ status uncertain, Ogbonnaya was signed off the Texans’ practice squad on Oct. 18 and will now face his former teammates.
"I think there’s a little irony in that, but it’s part of this league," he said. "Crazy things happen and you’ve just gotta be ready to play."
Notes: Browns CB Dimitri Patterson has been ruled out for Sunday’s game with a knee injury. Rookie Buster Skrine will take Patterson’s spot in the nickel package. Shurmur trusts Skrine can handle the job. "I’m confident that whatever his role requires he’ll do well," Shurmur said. … Along with Hillis, the Browns listed OT Tony Pashos (ankle), LB Kaluka Maiava (knee) and DB Ray Ventrone (hamstring) as questionable. … Hardesty didn’t have a timetable for his return but his confident he will be back on the field at some point this season. He wants to help now, but knows he must be patient. "It’s terrible and tough with guys going down, but it’s part of football and I’m just going to work as hard as I can to get back," said Hardesty, who missed last season following knee surgery. "I can come back this year, so now my focus is treatment, treatment, treatment."