CLEVELAND - Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis told his team to keep a stiff upper lip after yesterday's season-opening, 9-6 loss to Seattle, calling it “just one brushstroke on what will become a final painting.”
Davis, who made his NFL head coaching debut, would like for his team to someday splash the canvas with a flurry of blinding yellows and fiery reds and oranges. Yesterday's colors were far more muted, a gray here, some beige there, a dapple of olive green mixed in along the way.
The Cleveland defense showed vast improvement. But the offense failed to find the end zone and the special teams folded in the clutch, allowing a 49-yard kickoff return by Seattle's Charlie Rogers with 2:00 to play that set up Rian Lindell's game-winning 52-yard field goal. The game-winning kick came with three seconds left.
The Browns followed a diving sideline interception by Daylon McCutcheon with a 61/2-minute drive that reached the Seahawk 5, but had to settle for a field goal that knotted things at 6-6 with 2:14 remaining before 72,318 fans at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“Obviously, we're not too happy with how we played in the red zone,” said Cleveland quarterback Tim Couch, who completed 17 of 33 passes for 176 yards. “We came away with field goals when we were looking for touchdowns. That was probably the difference in the game, and as the quarterback I have to take that personally.”
Actually, kicker Phil Dawson missed to the right from 37 yards out on the Browns' first foray inside the Seattle 20, but made up for it early in the second quarter with a 48-yarder that gave Cleveland a 3-0 lead.
Despite showing some mettle on the ground - Jamel White and James Jackson, who started, combined for 89 of the Browns' 90 rushing yards - those three points were all the Browns could muster until their final drive.
“I thought we'd move the ball better,” Davis said. “I thought we would throw and catch better. I thought we were effective enough running the ball against Seattle's real good front seven. For the most part, we stayed out of second-and-12-type situations. But, no, I wasn't satisfied.”
The Browns finished with 239 net yards, a modest improvement on last season's 220.6-yard average, and achieved an even split in possession time.
“The tempo of the game picks up from preseason to the regular season,” said Couch, who had a second-half pass intercepted at the Seattle 20 to end one drive. “The receivers and I were a little out of synch. Maybe it was first-game jitters. But I'm confident we're going to be a real good offense.”
Based on yesterday's effort, the defense is already pretty good.
The Browns held Seattle's West Coast offense to 251 net yards, sacked quarterback Matt Hasselbeck five times and picked off a pair of passes.
Ricky Watters rushed for 97 yards on 16 carries, an average of 6.1 yards per attempt, but the Seahawks' star running back will get numbers like those against most defenses.
“I thought we did a pretty good job,” said Cleveland safety Earl Little, who had a first-quarter interception. “But I know everybody on this team wanted to win. So to let it slip away late like that really hurts.”
The Browns looked as if they were mounting a winning bid after McCutcheon's interception gave them the ball at the Cleveland 34. Couch completed his longest pass of the game when he scrambled, saw a defensive back bite for his run, and lobbed a soft pass that Quincy Morgan turned into a 31-yard gain to the Seattle 17. Three plays later, Couch threw to JaJuan Dawson, who made a nifty spin move for a first down at the 7.
But after Jackson ran for two yards, Couch misfired on two passes and Cleveland took Dawson's 22-yard field goal for a 6-6 tie.
Rogers followed with the long kickoff return, a counter move that saw him start right before breaking back, and that spelled the beginning of the end for the Browns.
“Everyone wanted to make a big hit and pin them back deep and then see if we could get the ball back,” Davis said. “But it looked like some guys got caught up and maybe were out of their lanes a little bit.”
Added tight end Aaron Shea, also a special-teamer: “We can't let stuff like that happen. We gave them the ball at the 50 when a field goal would win and they only had to go 15 yards. We have to make that play and make them go 40 or 50 yards to score.”
Seattle started at its 47 and, with the help of a pass-interference call, moved to the Cleveland 36 and faced a fourth-and-one situation with 0:12 to play.
The Seahawks called a timeout and considered a field goal attempt at that point, but instead returned Hasselbeck to the field for a quarterback sneak.
“I really wanted to get a few more yards for Rian because the wind was really blowing,” Hasselbeck said. “It turned out he didn't need it. He made it easily.”
It was a helping wind from left to right and Lindell, a second-year player, caught it all for the fourth 50-plus-yard kick of his career.
“They made the plays to win,” said Cleveland special-teams player Tarek Saleh. “We just have to remember that we're capable of making them, too.”