CINCINNATI — We can only worry about what we can control.
One of the most popular sports clichés of 2007 no longer applies to the Browns. And they have no one to blame but themselves.
A crushing 19-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday took their playoff destiny out of the Browns’ hands. They need a Tennessee (9-6) loss at Indianapolis (13-2), or a Tennessee tie and a Browns (9-6) win over San Francisco (5-10) to earn an AFC wild-card spot. Both games are next Sunday.
“We can’t do nothing but pray about it,” defensive lineman Shaun Smith said. “Hopefully something good happens.”
The Browns would lose the tiebreaker for the sixth seed to Tennessee if they both finish 10-6, because Tennessee would have a better record against common opponents. The Browns’ losses to Oakland and the Bengals would cost them a spot in the playoffs.
“The worst thing to do in a run like this is put it in someone else’s hands,” guard Eric Steinbach said. “When we had a chance to dictate it, like we did today, that’s when you’ve got to jump on it and go. We didn’t do that.”
With a chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, the Browns’ bugaboos came back to bite them. They again started slowly on the road. They again couldn’t stop the run. Quarterback Derek Anderson again was not as sharp on the road.
That’s an understatement. Anderson threw a career-high four interceptions, including a pair on back-to-back throws in the final 90 seconds of the first half that swung the game.
The Bengals extended a 6-0 lead to 19-0 — “Right there, that won them the game,” Anderson said — and Cleveland’s comeback in the second half fell short when Anderson inexplicably rushed a throw from the Bengals 29-yard line on the final play. The throw was knocked down in the end zone by a Bengal and never came close to tight end Kellen Winslow.
“He was supposed to throw it real high,” said Winslow, who had seven catches for 73 yards and was the target on two of the interceptions. “It was just how the game went.”
The Browns took over at their 17-yard line with 1:48 left after Kenny Watson (130 yards rushing) fumbled. Braylon Edwards (eight catches, 52 yards, two touchdowns) caught a deep pass on the next play to move across midfield, but was called for offensive pass interference on Bengals cornerback Deltha O’Neal. Edwards didn’t agree with the call, but chose not to criticize the official publicly.
“I ran a good route,” he said. “He tried to put a hand on me, and I knocked it down. The referee did his job.”
The Browns, who used their last two timeouts on the drive, managed to reach the 29-yard line, but they had let precious seconds tick off the clock instead of spiking the ball. They were left with one desperation shot at the end zone.
The Browns didn’t deserve that chance. Besides Anderson’s four interceptions, they …
• botched a field goal when Dave Zastudil couldn’t handle a wind-blown snap on a 39-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter. He said it was the first time in his six-year career he’d been unable to get a snap down.
“The wind was gusting real bad,” Zastudil said. “The playclock was running down and we had to snap it. The wind pushed it straight down into me.
“I’ll take the blame for it, but it was a very, very difficult ball.”
• failed on a Jamal Lewis run on fourth-and-1 later in the first quarter. Instead of lining up to try a 37-yard field goal, coach Romeo Crennel elected to go for it with the blessing of kicker Phil Dawson, who was concerned with the crosswind.
• never looked comfortable on offense.
“I don’t think it was tightness,” Steinbach said, referring to the most important game many of the young Browns had played. “It was just lack of fire. Just coming out and knowing the implications, it should be a no-brainer. We really need to do some self-study.”
The only reason the Browns had a chance was because Carson Palmer was almost as bad as Anderson, who was 29-for-48 for 251 yards, two touchdowns and a season-low 53.4 rating. Palmer was 11-for-21 for 115 yards, a touchdown, two interceptions and a 44.8 rating. Cornerback Leigh Bodden had both the interceptions.
It didn’t matter.
“We made too many mistakes in the first half to overcome,” said Crennel, who defended his decision to keep throwing at the end of the first half. “We’ve been a pretty good two-minute team throughout the year. We felt that if we could get a field goal, it would benefit us. So, that’s what we tried to do.”
It backfired, and the Browns are left shaking their heads and hoping for Tennessee to go in the tank. Fans might want to start e-mailing Colts coach Tony Dungy to ask him not to rest his starters.
“We think we’re a better team if we were to go against Tennessee,” Winslow said. “We deserve to be in the playoffs. We work our butts off. We have people coming back from surgery.
“We really want it. It was right there for us to take it and we didn’t take it.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.