The Browns' Derek Anderson fumbles the ball after being hit by the Colts' Dwight Freeney. Indianapolis' Robert Mathis picked up the loose ball and ran it 37 yards for the game-deciding touchdown.
Tony Dejak / AP Enlarge
CLEVELAND - Can it get worse for the Browns? It did yesterday in the last minutes of a 10-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Quarterback Derek Anderson, seeking to salvage his Browns career or open new doors elsewhere over the last five games, suffered a ligament injury to his left knee with
1:07 to play on a sack by Colts end Robert Mathis.
Anderson said he felt "burn and pain" and will get a thorough examination today. At the very least, he knows his medial collateral ligament is sprained.
"I'm not encouraged by the way he came off the field," said coach Romeo Crennel.
The Browns are 4-8 after losing for the sixth time in seven home games. This is how regimes come tumbling down - in an avalanche of losses, off-field embarrassments, and quarterback injuries. Brady Quinn's done for the year. Now probably Anderson.
Even before the game, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported it would take "a miracle finish" for Crennel to save his job. Make that a miracle times two.
The Browns will head into their final four games with third-stringer Ken Dorsey and, yes, Josh Cribbs as their top two quarterbacks. That stretch begins Sunday on the road against the 11-1 Tennessee Titans.
But Anderson, still a team captain, voiced what sounded like a message to management when he said, "Nobody's going to give up in here. We love RAC [Crennel] and we want to play for RAC."
It won't take Ron Jaworski's frame-by-frame video analysis to conclude there was no quit in the Browns against the Colts.
They held a Peyton Manning-led offense without a touchdown for the first time in 91 regular-season games. The last team to do that was Butch Davis' Browns in the 2003 season-opener. Crennel's Browns also held Manning without a touchdown pass in a 13-6 loss in Indianapolis in 2005.
"It seems like every time we come to Cleveland, it comes down to the last play," said Colts coach Tony Dungy.
The Colts are 8-4 and in the driver's seat for an AFC wild-card berth.
Holding the Colts to 215 total yards was a joint effort by the Browns' defense and offense.
The defense intercepted Manning twice (once on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half) and recovered a Joseph Addai fumble. In a career game, cornerback Brandon McDonald intercepted one pass to Reggie Wayne and dislodged another in the end zone. The Browns saved another touchdown by stuffing the Colts on successive plays at the goal line in the first half, surviving replay reviews each time.
Offensively, the Browns executed a well-sounded keepaway strategy with conservative play-calling and physical run-blocking. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. They ate up 9:23 on one possession that netted a field goal and a 6-3 lead at halftime.
Manning was borderline awful in the third quarter (29.8 rating, one interception) while Anderson was "managing the game," not scoring but keeping possessions alive with an occasional completion on third down. Again, keeping Manning off the field was paramount for a Browns victory.
When kickers Phil Dawson and Adam Vinatieri traded missed field goals in the third quarter - Dawson's from 34 yards into the Dawg Pound, Vinatieri from 46 the other way - the palpable feeling was the team that committed the next turnover would lose.
That's what happened.
On the Browns' first possession in the fourth quarter, Anderson faced third-and-8 from his 45. Anderson lined up in the shotgun with Jason Wright beside him with the three-receiver, one-tight end spread formation.
Throughout the game, the Browns' offensive tackles had kept speed rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in check, allowing only one coverage sack. But at the snap of the ball, Freeney caught left tackle Joe Thomas on his heels and bull-rushed him. Freeney hit Anderson's arm, and the ball came out. Mathis picked it up and rumbled 37 yards for his first touchdown at any level of football.
Freeney's 35 forced fumbles are the most since 2002.
"If you study Joe all year on film, you see he's a good tackle, plays hard," Freeney said. "He's going to be a good player. But he struggles a little bit with the bull rush."
Thomas said, "As tackles, we did a pretty good job of stopping their spin [moves], which is how a lot of guys get beat. Once you do that you're a little susceptible to the bull rush. That was kind of their Plan B. You're sitting on your heels a little bit to stop the spin."
Sure enough, Shaffer was victimized about six minutes later by Mathis on the play that injured Anderson's knee.
It was first down at the Browns' 45 and the clock down to 1:16 after a Browns timeout.
Again in the spread formation, this time with Jerome Harrison beside Anderson, Mathis plowed through Shaffer from the right side of the Browns' line. Shaffer's helmet appeared to hit Anderson's knee first and then Mathis wrapped up the leg on the way down.
"I just tried to hit [Shaffer] as hard as I could and hope something good would happen. It did," Mathis said.
"I was preparing for the outside move," Shaffer said. "It was a good choice for him. I wasn't expecting it."
Shaffer said he saw Anderson on the ground after the sack but didn't know he was hurt.
The sparse home crowd saw it. There was a distinct smattering of cheers as Anderson hobbled off the field.
In a season like this, nobody is looking good, fans included.