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.