Cleveland's offense is improving, but defense is regressing

Updated: October 25, 2004, 7:21 PM ET
Associated Press

BEREA, Ohio -- Give the Cleveland Browns credit for one thing: They've got the heartbreaking, tear-out-your-guts losses down to a science.

The Browns suffered yet another painful defeat with Sunday's 34-31 overtime crusher to the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles.

"I'd rather get beat 50-0 and have my teeth kicked in then to lose like that," tight end Aaron Shea said. "I'm not going to lie, that one really hurt."

And felt oh so familiar.

Of Cleveland's 55 games under coach Butch Davis since 2001, 28 have been decided in the final minute. The Browns are 11-17 in them, with seven ending on the final play and five of the losses coming in overtime.

On Monday, Davis and some of his players appeared not to have come to grips yet with matching one of the NFL's best teams for four quarters only to lose by a 50-yard field goal in OT.

The eternally optimistic Davis, who normally spends the majority of his Monday news conferences accentuating the positives, was unusually downcast.

"I don't like losing," he said. "It makes me sick."

This was another tough one for the Browns (3-4) to stomach. Their offense was balanced, amassing 394 total yards, picking up 27 first downs and converting 9-of-16 third downs.

They made big plays. They pushed the powerful Eagles to the limit. They still lost.

"I took this worse that any other game I played here since that Pittsburgh playoff game (in 2002) just because of the team that we were playing," said running back William Green. "They were undefeated, a really good team and we came that close. It's a tough one to swallow."

But maybe one to build on, too.

The Browns arrived at their bye week in reasonable shape considering they've had an early rash of injuries that sidelined several starters -- including rookie tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. for the season -- and forced them to start third- and fourth-string wide receivers against the Eagles.

Cleveland's offense has been gaining momentum the past few weeks as quarterback Jeff Garcia gains more confidence in a new system and with new teammates.

Garcia finished 21-of-32 for 229 yards, threw a TD pass and ran for a score Sunday. He looks much more comfortable behind Cleveland's offensive line, which is finally healthy and played its best game of the season against Philadelphia.

"Hopefully we can keep it rolling," tackle Ryan Tucker said. "Any loss is tough to take, but eventually those small losses will turn into small wins. We have to keep our heads up and keep grinding."

For the second straight week, the Browns found a workable balance for running backs Green and Lee Suggs, who were once worried about getting the ball.

Suggs gained 78 yards on 15 carries and had a 13-yard TD run. Green picked up 64 yards on 14 tries and scored from 11 yards. It's a 1-2 punch the Browns hope to throw even more in coming weeks.

"We can run the ball even better than that," Green said. "I think we can have games when we both run for 100 yards."

While Cleveland's offense is improving, its defense is regressing.

The Browns gave up too many big plays to Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and Co. -- a trend that has hurt Cleveland all season.

"We had a lot of mental errors," said defensive end Kenard Lang.

But for all the good things to have emerged from the tough loss, it was just that -- a tough loss.

"I'm not happy," snapped tackle Ross Verba. "What positives? Who cares? We didn't win. There's no positives to take away from this game. We lost."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press