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Published: Monday, 11/6/2000

Browns' offense falls flat again

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

CLEVELAND - It's not considered a lucky number, but so what? We're talking about the Cleveland Browns here, and luck went out the window about five injuries, a couple dozen penalties, countless dropped passes, a bunch of no-gain runs and seven games ago.

The number is 13.

As in 13 quarters without a touchdown.

The Browns, who played to boos for three quarters and virtually an empty stadium thereafter, experienced another touchdown-less Sunday while dropping a 24-3 decision to the New York Giants on the lakefront.

In losing for the seventh straight week, Cleveland failed to locate the end zone for the third game in a row.

With just a pair of field goals in the last three weeks, the Browns have been outscored 58-6 by Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and the Giants.

Forget the Baha Men and lettin' the dawgs out. When it comes to Cleveland's offense, it's time for a ballad by Question Mark and The Mysterions.

“Ninety-eight Tears” seems an appropriate theme song.

For the second time in as many weeks, the Browns (2-8) failed to dent the end zone after a pass-interference penalty gave them a first-and-goal at the 1.

The Browns settled for Phil Dawson's 19-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

Later, facing a long fourth-and-one at the Giants' 18, coach Chris Palmer decided to go for it. But the play, a deep handoff to Travis Prentice, went for a loss.

And so it goes.

The Browns keep playing the same game over and over again. It's like watching the movie Groundhog Day.

Except it's far less entertaining.

Cleveland netted 18 yards rushing, was outgained in total offense 370-193, and doubled up in first downs, 24-12.

“Sometimes,” Palmer said, “the guy across from you is better than you. “

Cleveland's coach likely wanted to swallow those words as they left his mouth and probably didn't mean them as a blanket explanation for the Browns' woes, but it may be closer to the truth than he'd like to admit.

Cleveland had the chance to take a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when a pass interference call on New York cornerback Dave Thomas placed the ball at the Giants' 1.

Unlike a week earlier, when they attacked the same situation with three straight dives into the line against Cincinnati, the Browns attempted to diversify.

Quarterback Doug Pederson tried a play-action pass that was tipped away from tight end Aaron Shea in the end zone on first down. Travis Prentice tried to go wide and was dropped for a one-yard loss on second down. Then, Pederson rolled out on third down.

“Dennis (Northcutt) was in the slot, and the play was supposed to go to him,” said receiver Kevin Johnson. “But he was doubled, so I tried to work back to the end line.”

Pederson spotted him, but led Johnson just a bit too much and the ball caromed out of bounds.

“Nobody can say it was the play selection this week,” Palmer said. “It hurt us, again, not getting in on the goal line.”

Instead of trying for the touchdown on fourth down, as he did a week earlier, Palmer sent out Dawson to get a 3-0 lead.

Later, aided by a personal foul, the Browns drove to the New York 18 and faced a fourth-and-one. This time, Palmer opted to try for a first down.

Despite a punchless ground game, Palmer chose to hand the ball to Prentice on a deep drop and the rookie running back was stuffed for a two-yard loss by Giants defensive end Michael Straham, who pretty much had his way all afternoon against Browns tackle Steve Zahursky.

“It's an inability to knock people off the ball, “ Palmer said. “It's that simple. Individuals are getting beat. On that fourth-down play, we got beat inside on a man-on-man blocking assignment. “

So why go for it on fourth down at the 18, locked in a 3-3 tie, but not on fourth down from the 2?

“The first one, it was early and it was a chance for us to go ahead, “ Palmer said. “The other one was different. I was trying to get some momentum that would help us hang in there. “

Instead, the opposite happened. Giants quarterback Kerry Collins capped a penalty-aided drive by throwing 28 yards to Ike Hilliard for a 10-3 lead with 1:55 left in the first half. Collins added a pair of TD passes to Amani Toomer in the second half as the Giants pulled away for their seventh win in nine games.

The Browns' only second-half scoring chance was thwarted when Pederson, under a heavy rush, tried to throw the ball away and instead saw it land in the hands of Giant cornerback Emmanuel McDaniels at the New York 7.

“You're not going to win games by 3-0 in this league, “ said Johnson, who had five catches for 73 yards. “We have to find a way to get the ball in the end zone. “



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