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Sunday, November 17, 2013
Tough to win when you can't punt

By Pat McManamon

CINCINNATI -- It's not common for a team to have a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown.

It's less common that a team has that happen in the same game when it has another punt tipped, holding said punt to 9 yards.

But that's part of the reason the Cleveland Browns fell apart in the 41-20 loss to the Bengals: They couldn't get off a punt. There were other miscues, of course. Jason Campbell's pass from his 20-yard line with the Browns ahead 13-0 was tipped at the line and intercepted by James Harrison. It would have been a touchdown had a Cincinnati player not blocked in the back for a penalty.

No matter, it merely set up Cincinnati's first touchdown.

Spencer Lanning
Bengals linebacker Jayson DiManche, 51, blocked Spencer Lanning's punt, which Tony Dye returned for a touchdown.
The Bengals forced a punt, which Lanning had tipped and went 9 yards. That set up the Bengals' second touchdown, which put them ahead for good.

Two possessions later, rookie Barkevious Mingo missed a block in protection and Lanning's punt was blocked, except this time the Bengals ran it in for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead.

The barricade was starting to cave.

“It's definitely a game-changer,” Lanning said of the blocks.

Mingo took responsibility for the second blocked punt. Lanning said the snap, step and kick from his point of view were fine.

“I felt the operation was good,” Lanning said. “Credit to them for dialing up good rushes.”

Lanning was amid the scrum for the ball with Tony Dye, but he neglected to touch Dye when he recovered the kick on the ground. That let Dye get up and run.

“I have no idea,” Lanning said when asked if he touched Dye. “I slid and was trying to fight for the ball.”

Lanning said he expected to be rushed kicking into the wind, and he got the pressure he expected. It could be, too, that the Bengals saw something they liked on the first tipped punt and decided to go after the second.

“Unacceptable,” coach Rob Chudzinski said of the poor special-teams protection.

The Browns then compounded their problems. On their ensuing possession, Chris Ogbonnaya fumbled after a short completion and the Bengals returned it for a touchdown and a 28-13 lead.

Then on third-and-13 with 42 seconds left, Jordan Cameron caught a short throw from Campbell and ran out of bounds. That allowed Cincinnati to save a timeout, and when the Browns didn't cover the punt well Cincinnati was able to kick a field goal.

The Browns implosion led the Bengals to score 31 points in the quarter, a franchise record.

“A few plays here and there, it could have been a different outcome to the game,” defensive lineman Desmond Bryant said.

Which, technically, is true.

But when every play goes against the team making the errors, it creates a steamroll effect that is next to impossible to fight.

And when the same team makes mistakes big and less big -- like Armonty Bryant jumping offside on a Cincinnati punt in the third quarter on fourth-and-2 -- it adds up.

Figure that Campbell returned to his pre-last-two-weeks self and threw three interceptions, and it's not hard to grasp why Browns lost a game by 21 when they held the opposing quarterback to 93 yards passing (on 27 attempts) and when they held the opposing star (receiver A.J. Green) to two catches for 7 yards.

“We handed them the game,” said wide receiver Josh Gordon.

“Too many mistakes,” said safety T.J. Ward. “Too many errors. We're not ready … we're not ready.”