Browns shaking off gut-wrenching loss
Angered by another loss, Cleveland comedian Mike Polk grabbed his video camera and vented.
Ranting as he paced a downtown sidewalk last week after the Browns were blown out in Houston, Polk, whose short film has gone viral on YouTube, turned toward Cleveland Browns Stadium and let loose.
''You are a factory of sadness!'' he screamed before surrendering. ''I'll see you Sunday.''
Well, Polk was prophetic.
On Sunday, the plant of pain manufactured more misery.
The Browns, who have seemingly found every conceivable way to lose since returning to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, discovered another way to deliver heartbreak when Phil Dawson, their steadier than steady kicker, missed a 22-yard field following a botched snap with 2:13 left in a 13-12 loss to St. Louis.
A disturbing chain of events, beginning with long snapper Ryan Pontbriand's snap deflecting off left guard Alex Mack's right foot, led to Dawson's miss - his first after four makes.
Or maybe it started with Polk's choice of jersey for his video. He wore a brown No. 64, with ''Pontbriand'' across the shoulders.
Pontbriand, who joined the Browns in 2003, was asked if he had seen it all as a pro.
''I thought I had,'' said Pontbriand, who was so upset following the game that he went home and snapped 150 times. ''But obviously not. It's just real unfortunate to be a part of that. Obviously I would give anything to take it back. If a couple things had been different, any one of the three things would've been different, it would've been game over, we win''
Instead, the Browns (3-6) lost, and in doing so in such a gut-wrenching way, they may have dropped a few more fans who have given up hope they can turn things around, make their first Super Bowl and win their first NFL title since 1964.
Browns first-year coach Pat Shurmur, who is being criticized for some late-game decisions in the loss, began his news conference Monday by reaching out to Cleveland fans.
''I'm just like every other person in the city of Cleveland that woke up this morning disappointed that we lost,'' Shurmur said. ''I feel the same frustration. I'm disappointed, but not discouraged. I feel it. I've lived it. I'm from this region, I understand what everybody feels when you don't win and so what we're trying to do is change that.''
Shurmur's first season hasn't been easy. The Browns lost their season opener against Cincinnati when they got caught off guard on a quick snap by Cincinnati for a game-winning TD. They've been gutted by injuries, forcing the Browns to go deep into a roster lacking depth.
Cleveland's offense can't score. The defense can't stop the run. Quarterback Colt McCoy has struggled with a receiving corps lacking playmakers. From the outside, it appears to be in disarray, but Shurmur is confident the Browns are growing into winners.
''I believe in my heart of hearts we can get it done,'' he said. ''There's no question.''
But it's easy to see why Browns fans would have their doubts after seeing Dawson, who has made a career-high six field goals from beyond 50 yards, pull a short one left with the game on the line. According to STATS LLC, Dawson's miss was the fifth shortest in the final 3 minutes of regulation since 1983.
Pontbriand accepted much of the blame following Sunday's game. He said after watching the coach's tape, it appeared the Rams defensive line moved before the snap, which may have caused Mack to move his leg into the path of Pontbriand's snap.
''The only thing you can see in the film is that the defensive line encroached and our left side reacted,'' he said. ''And it just so happened the set call, which is my cue to snap, happened a millisecond after. It gave him (Mack) enough time to get his foot in the ground behind me.''
As it turns out, the Rams had a hand in Dawson's miss.
St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo said the game tape showed defensive end James Hall got a piece of Dawson's kick, helping deflect it wide. That was little consolation to Pontbraind, who along with Dawson and holder Brad Maynard, have had a near-perfect season.
''We would have been 5-for-5 on the day and Phil's having an outstanding year, and he deserves to have a shot at making that kick,'' Pontbriand said. ''If you take away that and the two blocks (against Seattle), he's 100 percent. So that's tough. It's a hard one to swallow.''
There were some gulps taken on Cleveland's last drive when Shurmur called a running play that wound up with backup tight end Alex Smith carrying - and fumbling - the ball.
On second down at the Rams' 9, Smith replaced fullback Owen Marecic, who had been ''dinged'' on the previous play. Smith fumbled McCoy's handoff, but the ball was recovered by wide receiver Josh Cribbs, saving the Browns for that moment and preventing Shurmur from more embarrassment.
Still, Shurmur was grilled about the puzzling substitution.
''I knew who was in the game, and I chose not to stop the play,'' he said. ''Partly, because I couldn't get to an official and then I couldn't get to Colt to communicate and Colt talked to the fullback who knew he was getting the football. So there are no problems with that.''
Shurmur also defended not having McCoy throw into the end zone. The Browns haven't scored a TD at home in two games, but that wasn't of consequence to Shurmur. He wanted to score, but Shurmur wasn't going to do anything risky. His plan was to run the ball, kill some time and have Dawson kick the go-ahead field goal.
''I'll go to the well with what I did,'' he said. ''I'll go to the well lining up to kick the field goal, making them use timeouts and leaving them nearing two minutes to try to drive and beat us. I'll do that again.''
It all worked until Pontbriand's snap hit a teammate, bounced to Maynard and Dawson's kick sailed outside the uprights.
The Browns had done it again.
''Never ceases to amaze me,'' tight end Benjamin Watson said. ''Really bad.''