Published October 21, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS – Cleveland dealt with a costly case of the drops Sunday.
Reggie Hodges botched an extra point hold, Josh Gordon couldn't catch the perfectly-thrown 41-yard pass with 6:31 left in the game and the Browns ground game got stuck.
Andrew Luck, in contrast, scored on two touchdown runs and led the Colts to a 17-13 victory.
"I told the players last week, we made enough plays to win the game. This week, we didn't," coach Pat Shurmur said simply. "There was a lot of contributing factors, which I'm sure you'll have questions about."
There will be a lot of questions about how this one slipped away.
Cleveland (1-6) has now lost 11 consecutive road games and still has not won back-to-back games against the Colts since 1988. This time, they had nobody to blame but themselves.
Hodges' botched hold put the Browns in an early 7-6 deficit, forcing them to play catch-up the rest of the way with a defense that couldn't get enough third-down stops, an offense that generated only 55 yards rushing and still could have taken the lead if Gordon had caught a perfectly-thrown ball midway through the fourth quarter.
It was too much for Brandon Weeden to overcome on an emotional day for the Browns.
New owner Jimmy Haslam attended his first game since the sale was approved Monday, while left guard Jason Pinkston missed his first game since being hospitalized to undergo treatment for life-threatening blood clots.
For the rest of the Browns, it was a rough go.
"I would say frustrating for some odd reasons. I mean we only touched the ball in the first half twice," Weeden said. "It was a possession game, so that was the weirdest thing. It was frustrating from that standpoint, but look, we put ourselves in position."
By the numbers, Weeden outplayed Luck in the first head-to-head contest between this year's rookie quarterbacks.
Weeden was a solid 25 of 41 for 264 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Luck finished 16 of 29 for 186 yards, failed to throw a TD for the second consecutive week, and became only the third Colts' quarterback to run for two touchdowns in the same game. He joined a short list that includes Bert Jones, who did it Oct. 20, 1974 against the Jets, and Ricky Turner, who did it Dec. 4, 1988 against Miami.
Indy (3-3) has already surpassed last season's victory total and is back to .500 .
If that wasn't enough reason to celebrate, there was this: Coach Chuck Pagano was sent home from the hospital as he continues to battle a form of leukemia.
"That's probably as big as the win today," interim coach Bruce Arians said. "I'm sure he's feeling great right now."
The win came in typical Pagano style.
Indy controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes, ran for a season-high 148 yards, held Cleveland to 55 yards on the ground, and finished with two stops in Colts territory before finally shoving Josh Cribbs out of bounds on the final play.
Weeden and the Browns certainly had their chances after Luck scored on runs of 3 and 5 yards in the first half.
After Greg Little made a beautiful juggling catch in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard TD, Hodges dropped the ball on the extra point. The Browns played catch-up the rest of the game — the second half without running back Trent Richardson, who tried to play despite a rib injury.
But after managing eight yards on eight carries in the first half, he was yanked by coach Pat Shurmur and didn't return in the second half.
"The injury was pretty bad, I guess it limited me a lot," Richardson said. "I sat down, so, you know, it just hurt me not being out there, hurt me inside not being out there.
"I didn't want to come out. I said Pat knows what's best. He made his decision, and I think he made a great decision."
Weeden opened the second half with a 33-yard TD pass to Gordon, making it 14-13, but Adam Vinatieri made a 38-yard field goal on the next series.
Then, with 7:25 left in the game, Sheldon Brown recovered Luck's fumble at the 50. Three plays later, Weeden threw a perfect pass to Gordon in the end zone. But instead of taking the lead, Gordon dropped the ball. Cleveland punted on the next play to the dismay of Browns fans and Haslam.
The Browns defense got another stop, and Weeden marched the Browns to the Colts 39 — a drive that ended when a fourth-and-6 pass to Josh Cooper fell incomplete.
Cleveland got the ball back one more time, needing to go 80 yards in 1 second. All the Browns could do was run a play with five laterals and a fumble before Josh Cribbs was finally shoved out of bounds — setting off the celebration at Pagano's home.
"I'm thrilled to hear that. I'm more thrilled about that than the win," Luck said.
NOTES: Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin left with a calf injury during the first half and didn't return. Brown hurt his left ankle and left briefly. ... Cleveland has lost 11 straight road games. The Browns haven't won two consecutive against the Colts since 1988. ... Reggie Wayne caught six passes for 73 yards, and rookie Vick Ballard ran 20 times for 84 yards for the Colts. ... Colts right tackle Winston Justice left in the second half with an ankle injury.
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