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Published: Monday, 10/25/2004

Close, but yet so far for Browns in loss to Eagles

CLEVELAND - They all hurt. The ones that slip away hurt the most.

There is no joy in Mudville. The Cleveland Browns struck out in overtime yesterday to the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles, 34-31 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

"There are no moral victories, but we took these guys to the limit," Cleveland center Jeff Faine said.

That, plus 50 cents will make you an official Monday Morning Quarterback.

Were the 6-0 Eagles so much better than the 3-4 Browns?

No. Give or take a play - along with a questionable decision by Cleveland coach Butch Davis to punt on fourth-and-short in overtime - Cleveland could and probably should have won.

That's the difference between the teams. Close, but yet so far.

The Browns played their best game of the season and lost. The Eagles weren't at their best and won.

Yesterday's game was an opportunity for Cleveland to earn some much-needed respect around the NFL. Knocking the Eagles from the unbeaten ranks would have given the Browns' rebuilding program under Davis instant credibility.

Unfortunately, instead of slipping up on the unsuspecting Eagles, the Browns reverted to form and slipped on the proverbial banana peel in crunch time.

Facing fourth-and-one in OT, Cleveland appeared ready to gamble. With the ball at their 48, and not wanting to give Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb another chance to beat them, the Browns attempted to draw Philadelphia's defense offside. When the Eagles refused to nibble, the Browns blinked first, called a timeout and punted.

Cleveland's offense never got back on the field.

In his postgame press conference, Garcia questioned Cleveland's decision not to go for it on fourth down.

"It is always one of those things that you question afterwards because it did not work out for us," said Garcia, who was 21 of 32 for 236 yards and a touchdown.

"It is a situation where you have to think, what do we have to lose? We battled hard throughout this game, let's see if we can go out and win it with this play."

If Garcia was sending a message to his coach, Davis wasn't listening.

"You have to take away the positive things that we did," Davis said.

In the immortal words of Garcia, what exactly did the Browns have to lose?

Going for it on fourth down would have sent a message that Davis believes in his players.

Going for it takes guts. Besides, a 4-3 record looks a lot better than 3-4 heading into the bye week.

By not going for it, Davis played it safe. By playing the percentages, Davis told his players he had more confidence in his defense that couldn't stop Philadelphia all day than he trusted his offense that moved the ball at will against the Eagles.

Davis should have trusted Garcia more. After the game, Garcia's strong desire to win was recognized by the unlikeliest of admirers - former teammate Terrell Owens.

Owens, who has publicly questioned Garcia's manhood and the strength of his throwing arm, praised Garcia's performance.

"He is a gutty and gritty guy," Owens said. "If you give him opportunities, he is going to make plays."



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