CLEVELAND — The Browns and Rams squared off in NFL preseason play on Saturday night, but the actual winner of the game was Mother Nature.
A steady, soaking rain began several hours before kickoff at Cleveland Browns Stadium — and never stopped.
The resulting slippery, sloppy, super-humid conditions led to countless dropped passes, bobbled balls and flat-out fumbles.
In the end, St. Louis left town with a 19-17 victory, while the Browns were left feeling angry, frustrated and incredibly wet.
“It wasn’t unfair or anything because both teams had to play in the same conditions, but this was a tough one,” said Cleveland wide receiver Joshua Cribbs, who caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Seneca Wallace in the third quarter. “There was just so much rain the whole game.
“If you haven’t played in this before, you don’t know what to expect, but I felt like I had made the proper adjustments and was having good ball security. But I still gave it away, as well. I guess what I did wasn’t good enough after all.”
Cribbs wasn’t alone in losing possession of the football to the Rams. Starting quarterback Jake Delhomme and punt returner Syndric Steptoe also fumbled away the damp pigskin.
Coupled with the careless interceptions thrown by Wallace and Brett Ratliff, and the Browns totaled five turnovers.
“It’s worse playing in this weather than anything else because it changes your whole game plan,” Cribbs explained. “That’s true for coaches and players, even more than when it’s freezing or snowing. Your footing isn’t there, you have water on your arms rolling down your hands, your cleats are soaking, your jersey gets heavy.
“You change the way you call plays and you change the way you go out and play it. We should have been better, though, and we will be next time.”
St. Louis, which did not lose a fumble or toss an interception, turned Cleveland’s miscues into nine points and its first exhibition win this year. Seeing as the Rams went 1-15 and were the NFL’s worst team last season, that did not sit well with anyone in the home locker room.
“They had to deal with (the constant rain) just like we had to,” said visibly steaming Browns coach Eric Mangini, who threatened to make his players practice with the sprinklers on next week. “We’re going to have to play in rain, heat and snow during the season.
“Part of the (player) evaluation process is how you can deal with the distractions that occur. It shouldn’t be like that tonight. It just shouldn’t be like that.”
The defeat snapped Cleveland’s unofficial five-game winning streak, dating back to last December. It also put a damper on the runaway case of Browns fever that had swept the area after their thrilling 27-24 preseason-opening win at Green Bay.
Things started on a bad note when Delhomme and Jerome Harrison dropped the ball on Cleveland’s first two offensive plays, paving the way for a four-fumble, two-turnover first quarter.
Fortunately, losses in August don’t count once the regular season begins, so this evening wound up being a washout — figuratively and literally.
“I learned a long time ago whenever things go well, you don’t get too high,” said Cleveland tight end Benjamin Watson, whose 6-yard TD catch from Delhomme in the back of the end zone was the highlight of the game. “But when things don’t go well, you don’t get too low. All the guys here need to remember that because it’s a long season.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.