Browns Try To Regroup After Dallas Debacle

Browns Try To Regroup
Browns Try To Regroup

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - For kicker Phil Dawson, it was a Monday like so many others over the past decade.

One day after Cleveland began a season of great expectations by unexpectedly getting embarrassed 28-10 in its opener by the Dallas Cowboys, Dawson, a Browns lifer and the only player who has been with the club since its 1999 expansion reincarnation, offered some perspective on a loss that isn't sitting well with the locals.

"It's not time to panic," said Dawson, 1-9 in NFL openers.

"It's time to figure out how to improve. We just did not play good enough. This is a 16-chapter book and yesterday was the first chapter.

"It wasn't a good one but we still have a lot of the book to read."

With a nationally televised Sunday night game with the Pittsburgh Steelers up next, the Browns can't turn the pages on the Dallas debacle fast enough.

The 'Boys manhandled them.

Now, they have to make sure the Steelers don't, too. Pittsburgh has dominated Cleveland in one of the league's most bitter rivalries. The Steelers have won nine straight, 15 of 16 and 22 of 25 since 1994.

"You could put this game in April and Browns-Steelers is important," Dawson said. "This isn't just any week, it's Steelers Week and I think that's a good thing. I think it will help us move forward. If we had a bye week or something right now I think that we'd sit around and think about how horribly we played."

Putting aside the frighteningly lopsided statistics - Dallas prevailed in first downs 30-11; total yards 487-205; and time of possession 37:22 to 22:31 - the Browns are taking comfort in that they've been through something similar. Last season, they were overrun 34-7 by Pittsburgh in the season opener but bounced back to win seven straight at home and finish 10-6.

As they prepared to watch Sunday's film, the Browns were looking ahead by remembering their past.

"Same thing happened last year," defensive tackle Shaun Smith said. "We gave up a lot more yards against Pittsburgh. You've got to look at the positive note. There's still 15 more games left. We should be all right."

Smith's recollection is a bit fuzzy since the Steelers only gained 365 yards a year ago. But he's on the mark in pointing out that the Browns have a lot of schedule left to turn things around - or completely fall apart.

Just as he did Sunday, Browns coach Romeo Crennel lamented missed opportunities against the Cowboys. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards dropped several passes, including one that would have been a sure TD, and linebacker Andra Davis had a possible interception of Tony Romo slip through his hands.

Crennel was doing his best to put a positive spin on his fourth straight loss in openers since taking over the Browns in 2005. But the truth of the matter is that his team, especially his defense, was no match for a Dallas' galaxy of offensive stars.

Cleveland's pass rush, a major concern heading into the season, was nonexistent. When the Browns rushed three linemen in the first half, Romo had enough time to drop back, go through his downfield checks and even revisit a few before finally throwing. He finished 24-of-32 for 320 yards.

Without safety Brodney Pool (concussion), the Browns didn't have anyone to cover tight end Jason Witten, who blistered them for huge gains. And because they couldn't get to Romo, it put more pressure on cornerback Brandon McDonald, who did all he could to stay with wide receiver Terrell Owens.

"We couldn't stop Witten. We couldn't stop T.O. We couldn't stop Romo," Crennel said. "Those are the guys we knew they were going to go to, and we couldn't stop them."

Because of injuries, the Browns' first-team offense didn't take one snap together during the exhibition season and the lack of playing time hurt their cohesion. Edwards missed three preseason games with a cut foot and quarterback Derek Anderson sat two with a concussion. Their time apart contributed to a few miscommunications.

Making matters worse, the Browns were without Pro Bowl kick returner Josh Cribbs (ankle) and they lost wide receiver Donte' Stallworth when he injured his leg during pregame warmups. Crennel said Stallworth, one of the club's biggest offseason acquisitions, was expected to undergo further tests.

Their absences forced the Browns to use Steve Sanders and Syndric Steptoe - two practice squad players a year ago - in their offensive rotation.

Cribbs was "heartbroken" when Crennel told him shortly before kickoff that he wouldn't play. Standing on the sideline in street clothes, he watched helplessly as his teammates laid another giant egg in another opener. But there's always next week, and for the Browns, that's all that matters.

"When the clock ticked to zero and we knew the game was out of our hands, the fans were saying, 'You got seven days to get it right for Pittsburgh,"' Cribbs said. "We're going to do everything we can."