BEREA (AP) — Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson started to guess the number of missed tackles in Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati but stopped himself before tossing out a figure.
“A ton,” he said.
Coach Pat Shurmur wouldn’t divulge the count, either, but hinted that is was substantial.
“You guys can probably come up with a number,” he told reporters.
Poor tackling, penalties, blown coverage by the secondary and other mistakes contributed to a 34-27 loss to the Bengals and negated several positives for the winless Browns, who received sensational, bounce-back performances from rookie running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden, but still came up short.
On Monday, Shurmur and his coaching staff went over the game tape and worked with the young Browns on “corrections.” There’s plenty to fix.
And it should probably start on special teams. The Browns fell into a 7-0 hole less than two minutes into the game, when Bengals return man Adam “Pacman” Jones took back a punt 81 yards for a touchdown. On his return, Jones escaped six tackles, leaving a trail of Browns scattered across the field at Paul Brown Stadium.
The first miss was by rookie gunner Johnson Bademosi, who seemed to have Jones wrapped up but let him slip away.
“I had an opportunity to make a play and I didn’t,” Bademosi lamented. “That’s my job. We left way too many plays on the field and that was one of them.”
Shurmur was disappointed that what seemed to be a routine punt turned into something spectacular.
“The ball was punted in an area where we had a guy in his face,” Shurmur sad. “If you don’t make that tackle, then you have to make him go sideways. He didn’t make the tackle, and Pacman went vertical. We had other opportunities to get him on the ground and we didn’t do it. No excuses for that.”
The poor tackling was a problem all day, but particularly on Jones’ return and a 50-yard TD by Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who took a short pass from a scrambling Andy Dalton on a busted play and turned it into a back-breaking score that gave Cincinnati a 31-17 lead with 10:44 remaining.
Browns rookie cornerback Trevin Wade had Hawkins covered tightly as he ran a crossing route. But when Dalton ran from pressure, Wade allowed Hawkins to drift away and then couldn’t recover in time to make the tackle. But as Hawkins picked his way down the sideline, there were several other Browns defenders, including cornerback Buster Skrine, who had a chance to bring him down but couldn’t.
“There’s probably four or five missed tackles and angles were bad,” Jackson said, painfully recalling the play. “We’ve got to clean up those areas of the game a little bit.”
The Browns were penalized 10 times for 103 yards. The high number isn’t as alarming as the nature of some of the infractions.
Cornerback Dimitri Patterson, starting because Joe Haden is serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, was twice called for lining up offside. The second violation was declined by the Bengals, but it was a telling example of Cleveland’s self-destruction.
Perhaps the costly penalty came in the fourth quarter.
The Browns had just pulled within 31-24 on Weeden’s 15-yard TD pass to Greg Little, and Cleveland’s defense had the Bengals facing a 3rd-and-1 at their own 32. But before the snap, rookie defensive tackle John Hughes jumped offside, giving the Bengals a first down and they eventually kicked a field goal to open a 10-point lead.
Shurmur said all the mistakes “eat at me” but the penalties before the ball is put in play gnaw at him most.
“Penalties hurt and you have to overcome them. Some of the penalties that we had, we didn’t overcome,” he said. “The ones that I don’t like are the pre-snap ones, of course, that are correctable. The ones involving effort and all that business, judgment of whether it was or wasn’t (a penalty), you have to coach against making those types of errors.
“It’s a fine line between then backing your guys off where they don’t play hard. For me, the ones that are avoidable, truly avoidable, are the pre-snap ones that put you behind on the downs.”
Jackson wasn’t making excuses, but he said players are having to adapt to the way the replacement officials are calling games. There’s little consistency, and a lot of confusion.
“The past few years with the rules changes, that’s one thing,” said Jackson, who didn’t think he should have been called for unnecessary roughness in the first quarter. “And now you add another obstacle in the replacement refs. Now they have a tough job to do, we understand that. The hardest thing right now is adjusting to how they’re calling games.”
Unforced errors and officials aside, the Browns came away feeling much better about this season. Weeden’s recovery after posting a 5.1 rating in his NFL debut, and Richardson’s breakout after a slow opener following knee surgery, have the Browns convinced that a win could come as soon as this Sunday against Buffalo.
“We’ve got to find a way to win, and I think we will,” defensive end Frostee Rucker said. “We’ve just gotta keep chopping wood, and everyone in this locker room understands.”
Jackson realizes better than anyone.
In his seventh season, Jackson, who missed almost two years with injuries, is playing the best ball of his career. He had three sacks, two tackles for loss and an interception on Sunday, but no statistic matters more to him than a win. Jackson knows the Browns can still make something of their season.
“It’s not over,” he said. “We have a lot of football to play, a ton of football to play. We’re close.”
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