Tennessee's Chris Johnson beats Cleveland's Brandon McDonald to the end zone for a score in the fourth quarter.
John Russell / AP Enlarge
NASHVILLE - Three more weeks of this?
Three more games of offensive futility and defensive breakdowns, preceded by endless speculation about Bill Cowher, Marty Schottenheimer and anyone else who's been an NFL head coach marching in to the rescue.
Who stays? Who goes? Who's playing quarterback? Will they or won't they quit?
"This is the worst year of my life," a Cleveland Browns official said yesterday.
That was before the Browns were trampled 28-9 in LP Field by running backs Chris Johnson and LenDale White of the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans, who were 10-6 last year, celebrated their 12th win in 13 games and clinched the AFC South title. The Browns, who were 10-6 last year, fell to 4-9 after their third consecutive game without an offensive touchdown.
So Ken Dorsey completes the trifecta begun by Brady Quinn against Houston and Derek Anderson against Indianapolis.
Except for last season, scoring touchdowns has been an excruciating exercise for the Browns since their expansion rebirth. They last had a TD-less run like this one in 2000.
That year they had eight games of fewer than 10 points. This was their fourth in 2008, with games remaining at Philadelphia, against Cincinnati and at Pittsburgh.
"I expect to go out next week and learn from what I did this week and get better, get more comfortable," said Dorsey, who was 22-of-43 for 150 yards and threw one interception in his first NFL start in three years.
Those expecting an enlarged, creative role for ex-Kent State running quarterback Josh Cribbs were disappointed.
Out of 64 offensive plays, Cribbs lined up eight times as a shotgun quarterback. The first time, Dorsey motioned back under center before the snap. On six occasions, Cribbs ran with the ball, gaining 24 yards. One of those runs, for 30 yards, was reduced to six when Darnell Dinkins was called for holding.
Finally, after Tennessee's last touchdown in the fourth quarter, Cribbs was allowed to pass the ball. He threw deep for Braylon Edwards down the right sideline, but Edwards was able to get only one foot in bounds. The Browns didn't even bother to challenge the call.
"That felt great. It brought back memories," Cribbs said.
Coach Romeo Crennel said it's unfair to ask Cribbs to throw the ball much if the team doesn't practice it during the week. Cribbs disputed that he received 45 percent of the offensive snaps this week in practice, as reported during the CBS broadcast of the game.
"Most of his [quarterback] stuff was done after practice [to prepare as an emergency quarterback]," Crennel said.
And so, limited by Dorsey's minimal arm strength and Jamal Lewis' rapidly declining season (seven carries for seven yards), the Browns failed to score a touchdown despite an average drive start at their 37.
Two interceptions by linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and a fumble recovery by cornerback Eric Wright gave the Browns the ball at the Tennessee 25, 26 and 46. They resulted in three Phil Dawson field goals after the offense ran three plays, three plays, and 10 plays for 24 yards.
"I tried to make quick, efficient decisions," Dorsey said. "At times I was too quick and other times not efficient enough."
Dorsey completed a short pass to Braylon Edwards that went for 25 yards on the third play of the game. That was the offensive highlight. Dorsey said he was frustrated that he missed Edwards against single coverage in the end zone on two occasions.
Crennel said Dorsey "kept fighting, but their rush was pretty effective."
"[Dorsey] wasn't perfect. The things around him weren't perfect, either," Crennel said.
Crennel had said during the practice week that it would take a perfect game for the Browns to stay competitive with the Titans.
At the least, that meant no bonehead penalties. But the Browns strangled themselves on several occasions.
Defensive end Corey Williams was flagged for pulling Kerry Collins' facemask during a completion, moving the Titans seven additional yards inside the 10. End Shaun Smith stepped on the hand of the Tennessee long snapper after an extra point. Wright was called for holding after a poor Tennessee punt, costing 10 valuable yards in field position. Receiver Donte Stallworth speared safety Michael Griffin after an interception runback. And Dinkins' holding call on Cribbs' big run cost the Browns 24 yards.
Meantime, the defense allowed Johnson (19 carries for 136 yards and one touchdown) and White (24 for 99 and one TD) to live up to their nickname of Smash and Dash.
It's a shame because Collins sure didn't look like the field general of a 12-1 team.
He was 14-of-23 for 155 yards and two interceptions. He threw for two touchdowns, one on a short pass to fullback Ahmard Hall on a great fourth-down call with the Browns expecting a handoff to White, and the other on a bullet to Justin Gage in the back of the end zone when Wright lost coverage.
Early in the game, the Titans faced third-and-16 from their 18. Collins lined up in the shotgun and handed off inside to Johnson, who broke the run outside and gained 17 yards for the first down.
Johnson capped off the scoring when he glided 25 yards to the end zone, virtually untouched, on a first-down handoff.
Those plays have happened all year, no matter who's playing quarterback.