NFL Nation: Reggie Hodges
Thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 17-13 loss at the Indianapolis Colts:
What it means: It was a disappointing start to the Jimmy Haslam era. The Browns lost their 11th straight road game, which ties the franchise record (1974-76). This road losing streak is the longest active one in the NFL. Cleveland (1-6) becomes the first team to lose six games this season.
Failing to convert in the fourth quarter: The Browns couldn't extend drives in the final quarter. They failed on four third downs and two fourth downs. The biggest blunder on third down was a dropped 41-yard pass by rookie receiver Josh Gordon that would have gone for a touchdown.
Giving up on the run: The expected game plan was attacking the Colts and the 29th-ranked run defense. But the Browns gave up on the run too fast, handing it off 16 times while throwing 40 passes. Rookie running back Trent Richardson (ribs) didn't play in the second half after getting drilled on a third-and-one with four minutes left in the second quarter. Unlike last week, the Browns didn't give the ball to backup Montario Hardesty. Richardson finished with eight yards on eight carries, and quarterback Brandon Weeden finished as the leading rusher (13 yards) after three quarters.
Wasted turnover: Blitzing cornerback Sheldon Brown came on the blind side to hit Andrew Luck, forcing a fumble and recovering it in the fourth quarter. Down 17-13, Cleveland didn't convert as Gordon dropped a deep third-down pass at the goal line. The Browns chose to punt on fourth-and-1 at the Colts' 41 with 6:31 remaining.
Greg Little shows off hands: Little has been rightfully criticized for dropping the ball in his first two seasons in the NFL. But he made the best grab of his career on the Browns' opening possession. Leaping over a Colts defender in the back of the end zone, Little tapped the ball in the air and caught it while getting both feet inbounds.
Not so special teams: The Browns matched the Colts' game-opening touchdown drive with a 16-play, 90-yard series. But Cleveland failed to tie the game because holder Reggie Hodges mishandled the snap on the point-after attempt. Last season, the Browns struggled with the long snaps.
Luck or RG3?: The Browns had to be confused whether they were playing Luck, the draft's top pick, or Robert Griffin III, the No. 2 overall selection. Luck showed off his athleticism by scoring the Colts' first two touchdowns on runs. He reached the end zone on runs of 3 and 5 yards.
Weeden watch: In the first matchup of rookie quarterbacks this season, Weeden more than held his own against Luck. Weeden looked decisive on his throws, completing 25 of 41 passes for 264 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
What's next: The Browns return home to play the San Diego Chargers, who are coming off a bye.
The only starter who played, the Bengals' Andy Dalton, left in the first quarter with an injury but it's not considered serious. Dalton said his hand went "a little numb" after getting hit in the arm but it's "no problem at all." Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, "Andy’s fine. He’ll be fine for Baltimore. He would have gone right back in this game if it had been the regular season.” So, crisis averted.
If you couldn't watch all four division teams play simultaneously, you're in luck. I had my eye on each one and here are some observations:
BENGALS AT COLTS
In the 20-16 loss at Indianapolis, Dalton was hurt on the opening drive after getting sandwiched. Offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Dennis Roland both got beaten for sacks on the play. It hasn't been a great preseason for Whitworth, who is the second-best left tackle in the division.
The Bengals didn't play their top two running backs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott, because both are recovering from injuries and are getting ready for the regular-season opener. For once, Cincinnati's run game didn't suffer. Brian Leonard ran hard and broke tackles for 27 yards on three carries. Cedric Peerman, who makes more of an impact on special teams, looked good on a 13-yard run up the middle.
No one wants to see Dalton hurt. The Bengals, though, have to feel comfortable with backup Bruce Gradkowski. He finished 12 of 19 for 95 yards and led his fourth touchdown drive of the preseason.
Rookie wide receiver Marvin Jones displayed some resiliency in the second quarter. On the same drive in which he dropped a touchdown pass, he came back to catch a back-shoulder throw from Gradkowski and ran into the end zone. Jones is making a push for some playing time this year.
BEARS AT BROWNS
In the 28-20 loss to Chicago, Colt McCoy watched his strong preseason take a nosedive. In his first start this summer, McCoy was 2 of 5 for 16 yards for a 9.1 quarterback rating. That's going to put a dent into McCoy's 119.1 rating from the first three games. McCoy was also intercepted on a high pass that was thrown with no pressure around him. The Browns will let everyone know what they plan to do with McCoy on Friday.
The Browns have a concern at linebacker after rookie James-Michael Johnson left with an oblique injury. With Chris Gocong out for the season with an Achilles injury and Scott Fujita facing a three-game suspension from the NFL, Cleveland planned to depend on Johnson and Kaluka Maiava. The Browns might need Fujita to win his appeal to avoid going deeper on the depth chart. Johnson was having a strong performance before getting injured on an open-field tackle.
Backup running back Montario Hardesty had trouble getting back to the line of scrimmage because he got little help from his blockers. He finished with 24 yards on six carries and he didn't fumble for the first time since the preseason opener. Brandon Jackson fared much better, gaining 48 yards on seven carries.
Cornerback James Dockery was flagged twice for pass interference in the second quarter. The second one eventually led to a touchdown. Rookie cornerback Trevin Wade was physical and had good coverage in allowing the first touchdown of the game.
As if the Browns needed something else to worry about, they have to iron some things out on special teams. Reggie Hodges got his second punt blocked this preseason.
RAVENS AT RAMS
In a 31-17 loss at St. Louis, Sergio Kindle hurt his chances of surviving Friday's cutdown. He hit quarterback Sam Bradford a full second late, drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty to help the Rams convert third-and-22. Kindle, a 2010 second-round pick, was on the bubble entering this game.
Continuing Thursday night's trend of rookies getting hurt, second-round pick Courtney Upshaw will have an MRI for his strained shoulder, according to coach John Harbaugh. Upshaw has been backing up Albert McClellan at outside linebacker.
Veteran linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo had his worst game with the Ravens. Working with the first-team defense because most of the starters sat, Ayanbadejo struggled against the run and got lost in coverage. It was so bad that he apologized for his performance on Twitter.
What I like the most about Tyrod Taylor, who started in place of Flacco, is his ability to make plays with his legs. Even though he focused more on being a pocket passer, Taylor wasn't hesitant to take off for a 22-yard scramble. He did get stripped from behind earlier in the game, but it was the result of a third-string lineman (Cord Howard) getting beat by a former first-round pick (Robert Quinn).
Looking at Curtis Painter's up-and-down performance, I'm not sure he convinced the Ravens to keep three quarterbacks. He threw two touchdowns and was intercepted three times. One interception was returned 76 yards for a touchdown.
Justin Tucker missed his first kick of the preseason, but it's difficult to be critical of him. It was a 57-yard attempt. He later hit a 49-yarder in the third quarter.
PANTHERS AT STEELERS
If this was Charlie Batch's last game with the Steelers, he made it a memorable one, or at least as memorable as the preseason gets. In the 17-16 victory over Carolina, he completed 11 of 14 passes for 102 yards. Batch showed great touch in leading Emmauel Sanders out of double coverage for a 37-yard touchdown. The new rule regarding injured reserve helps Batch's chances of sticking around Pittsburgh for an 11th season, but there's no guarantee that he'll make the cut.
For the second consecutive week, a Steelers draft pick went down with a serious knee injury. With two minutes left in the third quarter, linebacker Sean Spence hyperextended his knee while chasing quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Spence's knee bent awkwardly underneath him, and the third-round pick needed to be carted off the field. Spence was expected to make an impact on special teams this season and could have received playing time if there were injuries at inside linebacker. Unlike David DeCastro's knee injury, this one happened on the natural grass of Heinz Field.
This isn't a newsflash, but rookie running back-receiver-returner Chris Rainey is a game-changer. He twice scored on punt returns in one quarter, only to have both brought back because of penalties. This would've given him the touchdown trifecta. The fifth-round pick had scored on a 41-yard run and a 57-yard catch this summer.
Nose tackle Casey Hampton made his preseason debut after having ACL surgery in January. His presence was felt immediately as he got off a block from guard Mike Pollak and made a tackle. Hampton's return was good to see for the Steelers, even though Steve McLendon has played well enough to start.
Jonathan Dwyer solidfied himself as the primary backup to Isaac Redman, and the Steelers could need him based on Redman's durability. Dwyer was physical (even delivered a stiff-arm) and showed good feet to elude tacklers. He finished with 63 yards on 13 carries, a 4.8-yard average.
This was is an unprecedented and strange day for the Browns -- and the NFL in general. The lockout was temporarily lifted. But without a collective bargaining agreement in place, Browns players showed up for work with a lot of unknowns.
Browns tight end Ben Watson, former Pro Bowl kick returner Josh Cribbs and punter Reggie Hodges arrived at the facility shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday. But players said security cut off certain parts of the building and withheld them from working out.
"It's really disappointing," Cribbs said. "I came here in workout clothes. I came to the Browns facility to try to work out. I want to get back to work. We have a long road ahead."
Browns players also were not given playbooks or allowed to have any contact with coaches and the front office. An appeal to Monday's ruling is expected, which will create further uncertainty.
A case can be made that the Browns are one of the teams most hurt by the lockout. This offseason Cleveland has to install new West Coast offense, a new 4-3 defense and has a rookie head coach (Pat Shurmur) and inexperienced quarterback (Colt McCoy).
"We don’t know what's going to happen," Watson said of the next move. "There's a lot more legal stuff to go on. But we got a lot of work to do."
You can argue the decisive moment happened with 1:35 left in sudden death, when Cleveland Browns safety Joe Haden declined to bat down Mark Sanchez's long third-down prayer and instead chose to intercept on the 3-yard line.
You certainly can argue the decisive moment happened with 16 seconds left in overtime, when Santonio Holmes took a quick slant 37 yards into the end zone to give the New York Jets a 26-20 victory.
I prefer to argue the decisive moment came in between.
The Jets might have pinned the Browns deep in their own territory anyway with a Steve Weatherford punt. And the Jets might have won the game anyway with a Nick Folk field goal (OK, maybe a stretch based on his three earlier misses, but play along with me here).
Browns coach Eric Mangini opened the door for the Jets to win because of the way he managed the end of the game. With 95 seconds and three timeouts, Mangini essentially sealed his fate by going for the win and not settling for the tie.
Browns fans couldn't be upset with his aggressiveness, but the decision turned a draw into a Jets victory.
Browns quarterback Colt McCoy threw an incomplete pass to tight end Benjamin Watson, taking only five seconds off the clock. Then the Browns chose to hand off to Peyton Hillis, who gained 2 yards and then paused before calling a timeout. On third down, Jason Taylor and Shaun Ellis teamed up to sack McCoy at the 2-yard line.
The Jets called their last timeout with 35 ticks remaining and forced Reggie Hodges to punt from the back of his end zone.
Cleveland failed to gain yardage or run out the clock.
The Jets, however, wound up with just enough time and space to notch another win.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
New York Jets
Rather than come up with an intro for each one, let's just roll out all the stories about the Jets' play-calling decisions:
And now for something completely different ...
- Jane McManus of the Journal News writes QB Brett Favre has a "deep understanding of what this franchise has been through in the years since Joe Namath introduced the AFL to the big time."
- Favre considers Monday night's game against the Chargers a must-win, writes Mark Hale of the New York Post.
- Newsday reporter Erik Boland takes a look at new P Reggie Hodges.
- Dave Hutchinson of the Newark Star-Ledger writes about LB Bryan Thomas' recommitment to practice.
- You know how giddy Bills fans are feeling when they're buying $175 shots for players, writes Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post.
- Associated Press reporter John Wawrow writes WR Lee Evans is closing in on a new contract.
- Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com writes rookie CB Leodis McKelvin will get to show his stuff on kick returns.
- Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reports DT Kyle Williams keeps motoring along.
- Palm Beach Post reporter Edgar Thompson weighs the possibility rookie QB Chad Henne could take over sooner than expected.
- Miami Herald reporter David J. Neal writes QB Chad Pennington is trying to step up efforts to generate chemistry with his WRs.
- Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel revisits a painful play with S Renaldo Hill.
- Andy Kent of MiamiDolphins.com writes Pennington knows this Patriots defense.
New England Patriots
- Christopher Price of Metro Boston News writes about T Matt Light's glee over not having to face DE Jason Taylor anymore.
- K Stephen Gostkowski's booming leg has helped beyond field goals, writes Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald.
- Providence Journal columnist Bill Reynolds uncovers some riveting material on WR Randy Moss.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde wonders how good Bill Belichick will prove to be without Tom Brady.
- Lawrence Eagle-Tribune writer Hector Longo declares DE Richard Seymour "is back."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Scott Linehan knows he has to win this season. Linehan must do a better job handling defeat, the coach acknowledged. He also must not focus on the offense at the expense of the rest of the team.
Also from Thomas: Linehan is doing whatever he can to avoid a repeat of 2007, even changing up things in his personal life. Will it carry over onto the field?
Still more from Thomas: Where were you when the Rams' first-team offense finally scored a preseason touchdown? Thanks for asking, Jim. I was at the Cardinals-Raiders game.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers summaries on the Rams' key new players: Chris Long, Jacob Bell, Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Josh Brown, Trent Green and Anthony Becht.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers late-night thoughts following the Cardinals' 24-0 victory over the Raiders in the third exhibition game. Somers after coach Ken Whisenhunt defended a struggling Matt Leinart: "Jeff Fisher has done the same for Vince Young in Tennessee. I'll take the coach at his word, but you don't expect a first-round pick in his third year to look as bad as Leinart did."
Also from Somers: an overview of the game, including this observation Leinart: "Only one of his passes, a 14-yarder to receiver Anquan Boldin, seemed to be thrown with much conviction or accuracy. It's hard to see Saturday's video helping Leinart keep the job."
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune assesses Matt Leinart's poor performance against the Raiders before getting into how well the Cardinals' defense played.
Also from Tulumello: a look at the Cardinals' continuing penalty problems.
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says there's no way the Cardinals can open the regular season with Leinart at quarterback.
Jim Cawley of Florida Today checks in with Joe Cohen as the recently released 49ers defensive lineman helps family recover from Tropical Storm Fay in Florida. Being released was tough, but as Cohen put it: "I can't let this incident halt my life. There are other people in worse situations than me."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times breaks down the Seahawks' roster heading into the next exhibition game. He places Deion Branch on the bubble, only because the receiver could open the regular season on the physically unable to perform list. He lists Will Herring among the longshots at linebacker.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers ideas for improving the exhibition season: "Memo to the league: Monday night football and overtimes have no place in the preseason."
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks punter Ryan Plackemeier, who is competing with Reggie Hodges for a roster spot. The two have become friends.