BEREA, Ohio — Browns coach Rob Chudzinski didn’t point a finger at anyone but his own players.
A day after an epic collapse in New England, Chudzinski refused to blame officials who called two questionable penalties against the Browns in the closing minutes as the Patriots rallied from a 12-point deficit for an improbable 27-26 win.
“Anything can happen in a game, and it did [Sunday],” Chudzinski said Monday. “We have to make the plays and take advantage of the opportunities we have to win those kind of football games.”
Outplaying a Patriots team with so much more on the line, the Browns (4-9) built a 26-14 lead with 2 minutes, 39 seconds left before everything fell apart.
Tom Brady, frazzled for three quarters, threw two touchdown passes — the second set up by an iffy pass interference call in the end zone on Cleveland rookie Leon McFadden — in the last 61 seconds. The Patriots recovered their first onside kick since 1995 to stun the Browns, who lost their fourth straight and seventh in eight games.
Following the heartbreaker, a few Browns players felt wronged.
“I feel like we got robbed a little bit,” linebacker Paul Kruger said.
Chudzinski was asked if referee Jerome Boger and his crew were the worst he has seen.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “We can only control what we can control, and if we focus on the things that we can’t, then we’ve given up all of our ability to do what we can do, and we put it in somebody else’s hands or we blame somebody else. We’re just not going to operate that way.”
Chudzinski chose to focus on the positives, and there were plenty for the Browns: Quarterback Jason Campbell’s interception-free, 391-yard performance. Another monster game by wide receiver Josh Gordon.
But it was impossible to ignore the ways Cleveland imploded.
On Brady’s two-yard TD pass to Julian Edelman with 1:38 left, Browns rookie cornerback Jordan Poyer was penalized for unnecessary roughness. The officials felt Poyer hit Edelman in the helmet, but TV replays showed his hit was to the receiver’s shoulder area.
Chudzinski said the officials told him the 15-yard personal foul, assessed on the ensuing kickoff, was for “contact to the head.”
Is that what it looked like on film?
“Hard to see,” Chudzinski said.
With the kickoff moved to the 50, Patriots kicker Steve Gostkowski dribbled his onside kick up the middle. The loose ball was recovered by New England after it bounced off Browns running back Fozzy Whitaker.
Chudzinski said the Browns were initially in an alignment to protect against a kick toward the sideline. As Gostkowski approached and struck the ball, Cleveland’s “hands team” alertly slid toward the middle.
“On the middle bunt, which they’ve shown before and done before, as they start coming in and their guys start converging into the middle, we slide and go, and you go get the ball in that case. It was a great kick for that type of kick. We had an opportunity. We just weren’t able to come up with the ball.”
Brady took it from there. It’s been that way for too long for the Browns. Close, not good enough.
Chudzinski, though, believes his team, loaded with inexperienced players, will be better for days like the one in Foxborough, Mass.
“Experience is a great teacher and the things that we can take from this game and build on are that we can go toe to toe with anybody in this league,” he said. “I see the light. I’m encouraged by our team and how they continue to work and move forward and build on the things that we’re doing.”
NOTES: Chudzinski said RB Willis McGahee is following the league’s protocol on head injuries after sustaining a concussion. ... Browns LG John Greco suffered a sprained knee. ... Chudzinski doesn’t feel safety T.J. Ward’s low hit on Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, who suffered torn knee ligaments, is a product of the league’s new rules. “I think he was trying to get Gronkowski down on the ground,” Chudzinski said. “A big guy coming at you that way is tough to get on the ground so I don’t know that it has to do with the rules other than trying to get the guy on the ground. Certainly, we feel terrible about that [injury]. He’s a great player, and [we] hope that he has a speedy recovery.”