CLEVELAND - It’s a feeling Cleveland Browns fans know all too well. For the 12th time in 13 seasons, the Browns have opened the season with a loss.
In head coach Pat Shurmur’s first game on the sidelines, the Browns were sloppy and failed to take advantage of several opportunities, letting a fourth quarter lead slip away before falling 27-17 to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Browns were flagged 11 times, gave up a late touchdown on a play where the defense wasn’t ready, had lousy punting, and wasted good starting field position in the second half.
“I need to do a better job coaching and we’ve got to play better and then we’ll win these games,” Shurmur said. “You’re not going to get any excuses from me.”
The running game struggled to get established on Sunday, as Peyton Hillis finished the day with 17 carries for 57 yards, and backup Montario Hardesty carried five times for 18 yards.
Shurmur’s arrival brought the arrival of a pass-friendly West Coast Offense, but the running backs were still expected to be a featured part of the offensive attack. Hillis had a few strong runs, but some long-yardage situations on second and third downs kept him from really getting in sync.
“It’s tough,” Hillis said about the loss. “It’s tough for everybody. Nobody likes to lose no matter what the scheme or expectations or system we bring into it.”
The game was the first action Hardesty has seen since getting picked in the second round of last year’s draft. In limited action Sunday, he showed some flashes of speed and cutback ability that the Browns liked when they traded up to get him in the draft.
If he is able to stay healthy throughout the season, he could be a nice change-of-pace back to compliment Hillis’ bruising running style.
Quarterback Colt McCoy finished with decent stats, but came up empty in the game’s critical moments.
McCoy threw for 213 yards and two touchdowns and one interception while completing 19-40 attempts. He targeted tight ends Evan Moore and Ben Watson for much of the day, and also threw some long ball attempts in Mohamed Masaquoi’s direction.
But in the second half, McCoy was just 11-24 for 95 yards with one interception. When the Browns needed a score after the Bengals took the late lead, the Browns final three drives went punt/ turnover on downs/ interception.
"We just kept stalling out," McCoy said. "We converted on a few third downs but not enough to really feel like we were in rhythm. We were inconsistent and when that happens and you’re playing in the NFL, you better watch out.”
Return man Josh Cribbs was one of the bright spots on the afternoon.
He got the Browns jump started with a 51-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, and then nearly took a punt back for a touchdown to give the Browns the lead late in the fourth quarter.
His opportunities, however, were limited. The new kickoff rules were evident, as several kicks soared through the back of the endzone for touchbacks.
“He’s back there licking his chops trying to bring those balls out and I am glad he did in that situation,” coach pat Shurmur said. “The guy is a playmaker.”
The 51-yard kickoff return set up the Browns first scoring drive, starting a stretch where the Browns scored 17 unanswered points to take a 17-13 lead.
With about 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Cribbs brought the fans to their feet once again. He nearly took back a punt for a touchdown that would have given Cleveland the lead, but rookie wide receiver Greg Little blocked Cincinnati’s punter into Cribbs, bringing both players to the ground.
“He just knocked him and me out,” Cribbs said. “I was seeing double. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he hit me.’ It was just so wide open.”
Cornerback Joe Haden had a day to remember—but it finished with one play to forget. Haden was matched up against Bengals rookie wide receiver A.J. Green for most of the game, and he locked down the sixth overall pick.
Green was held without a catch until late in the fourth quarter when the Bengals quick snapped a Browns team that was still in the huddle. Green ran a streak down the sidelines and Haden took off in his direction, but it was too late.
“We weren’t ready,” Haden said about the touchdown pass. “Everybody was scrambling. We were all in the huddle, trying to get the play and we didn’t realize that they were already lined up.”
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