BEREA — Coach Pat Shurmur tried Monday to clear up the confusion surrounding the botched handoff to tight end Alex Smith late in the fourth quarter of the 13-12 loss to the Rams on Sunday.
Shurmur said he knew Smith was in the game as the fullback for Owen Marecic, who was out for a play after getting “dinged.” But Shurmur didn’t realize Marecic was out until after he had called for an inside handoff to the fullback. By then, according to Shurmur, it was too late.
“I was told by my (assistant coaches) quickly, but not quick enough to get it changed,” Shurmur said.
He said he couldn’t change the play or tell quarterback Colt McCoy to call timeout because the headset communication shuts off with 15 seconds left on the play clock.
“I knew who was in the game, and I chose not to stop the play,” Shurmur said. “And 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’s no problem with that.”
Smith had never carried before in his seven-year NFL career and said he didn’t remember ever taking a handoff in practice. It looked that way when he awkwardly approached McCoy and never secured the ball. Receiver Joshua Cribbs recovered the fumble on second down, two plays before Phil Dawson’s missed field goal.
“We run it all the time (in practice). Not always to him,” Shurmur said of the play. “He’s practiced it, not of late.
“But you know what’s interesting is, you run a lot of plays in the game that the backup has to execute that he may not have done.”
Shurmur seemed irritated by the repeated questions on the subject Sunday and Monday.
“We want to get all this cleared up about that one play,” he said. “We could’ve handed the ball to (running backs Chris) Ogbonnaya or Thomas Clayton or somebody on an around and they fumbled as well.
“Alex knew he was getting the ball and Colt knew he was giving it to him and they’re football players and had I known now, I would have tried to call a timeout.”
Shurmur didn’t blame McCoy for not calling a timeout.
Running back Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and safety T.J. Ward (foot) have already been ruled out against Jacksonville Sunday. Ward was scheduled to have the cast on his right foot changed and another X-ray taken Monday, Shurmur said. He “felt a pop” in the arch Nov. 6 and didn’t play Sunday against the Rams. “He’s being further evaluated,” Shurmur said. “See where he’s at and decide how we’ll move forward with him.” Hillis will miss his fifth straight game and sixth of the season. He strained the hamstring Oct. 16, then reinjured it in practice Nov. 4. Shurmur said he has no plans to place Hillis or Ward on season-ending injured reserve. “I think they’ll both have an opportunity to be back this year and I’ll know more on T.J. later in the afternoon,” Shurmur said. “Peyton’s making progress, so we’re hopeful he can be back after next week. Hopefully. We’ll see.”
Running back Montario Hardesty has missed two straight with a calf tear, but might be able to practice this week. Shurmur didn’t rule out anyone but Hillis and Ward. “Everything is coming along good so I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,” Hardesty said. “We’ll see as the week goes on.”
Shurmur said receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (concussion) has been asymptomatic for a couple of days. He didn’t play Sunday and has missed two of the last three games after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit Oct. 23. “He’s feeling better,” Shurmur said. “We’re going to be very careful with that.”
After a night to think about it, Shurmur said he would’ve again run the ball six straight times to set up the 22-yard field-goal try that missed with 2:10 left. The Browns made a first down, before stalling at the 4-yard line.
Does he wish he had thrown a pass into the end zone?
“No. I’ll go to the well with what I did,” he said. “And 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.”
He explained his thought process. The Browns were down 13-12 and hadn’t scored a touchdown on three trips inside the red zone.
“You have a chance to score and go ahead, you do that,” Shurmur said. “Then you kick to them and play defense. I think that’s what you do.
“You can score on a run play just as well as on a pass play. I was not trying to not score, OK?”
Colt better? You bet
McCoy went 20-for-27 for 218 yards, two sacks and a 97.5 rating. The 74.1 completion percentage was a season high.
“He made big progress,” Shurmur said. “He didn’t play well enough for us to win, but he did some things in the game when we were generally efficient.
“I saw the accuracy on some of his throws. I thought he was very decisive on some of the throws he made. There’s still a handful of things in there that would’ve made it an outstanding performance that he could’ve corrected himself, but I think he made progress.”
Shurmur also thought McCoy, who’s been criticized for a lack of arm strength, threw well in the windy conditions.
Shurmur isn’t a fan of the Wildcat formation and resisted using Cribbs in it until Sunday.
“Josh carried the ball twice for 6 or 8 yards,” he said. “So it was moderately successful.”
It was 6 yards. The Wildcat wasn’t the only new wrinkle on offense. Backup quarterback Seneca Wallace lined up at receiver for three plays and caught a 21-yard pass.
“We were down receivers, just trying to freshen it up a little bit and we used him in a way that I’m sure they weren’t expecting it,” Shurmur said of Wallace, who played some receiver during his years in Seattle.
Shurmur was asked if he’ll continue to be creative with his play calling
“I think we’ve been creative to this point, it just hasn’t been within the boundaries of what some people think is creative,” he said. “But, yeah, we’ll continue to be creative.
“We’re going to do everything we can to try to score points. With the players that we have, try to score points and win games. That’s fair to say.”