11-18-02, 2:55 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Wide receiver Chad Johnson, the self-proclaimed "Mouth of the South," shocked the Browns into silence just 47 seconds into Sunday's game by catching the Bengals' longest touchdown pass in three years,
But by the end of Cleveland's 27-20 victory, Johnson had caught just three more balls for 31 yards and been reduced to tears. His mid-week guarantee of a victory had been washed away in the mistakes of a gut-wrenching fourth quarter.
"I told him there's nothing wrong with that, but some comments you've got to keep to yourself," Browns linebacker Earl Holmes told the media after meeting Johnson on the field. "You can't guarantee a victory. It came back to smack him in the face."
Johnson, who guaranteed the club's only win in Houston two weeks ago, needed time to pull himself together emotionally after the game. But when he did, he didn't sound like he regretted the move.
"I'm just trying to do what's best for us as a team by coming out, putting myself out there on the line and getting everybody hyped up and wanting to win and wanting to do it, you know?" Johnson said. "It seemed like it worked one time, but this time it didn't work. But, still, we're making strides. We looked good. It's just — I don't know what to say."
That's a rarity. His 72-yard touchdown catch did a lot of talking on the game's third play, the longest scoring pass since Jeff Blake hit Darnay Scott from 76 yards on, yes, the third play of a Nov. 28, 1999 game in Pittsburgh.
In the six games quarterback Jon Kitna has started, Johnson has now
either caught at least six balls, a touchdown, or 100 yards. Johnson said this touchdown came courtesy of double coverage on Peter Warrick on third-and-six. The Browns must have been thinking the Bengals would go with their usual short stuff to Warrick, so "when I dove inside, they let me go with (strong safety) Robert Griffith and I was able to outrun him down the middle," Johnson said.
But that's the most separation he had for a completion all day. Kitna couldn't find him in the red zone, when the Bengals reached the Browns 19 and 14, respectively, in the second half and had to settle for two Neil Rackers' field goals. Johnson touched the ball once on those six snaps, but it went for no gain.
"I wouldn't say they double covered me," Johnson said. "But they did roll their coverage my way. It did make it a little tough to get the ball."
Kitna very nearly hit him with another long ball in the second quarter, and, at the very least, the Bengals thought they had got a pass-interference call on cornerback Anthony Henry working on Johnson down the sideline that would have given them a first down at about the Browns 20.
That's the play that Kitna said the ref told him he missed the call because he tweaked his hamstring. Johnson had Henry looking like he blew out his hammy as he skated past him by a good five yards, but Kitna didn't get it all the way out there and Henry was able to reach all over Johnson in yet another chapter of not being on the same page.
"The route was supposed to be a 15-yard in. If he beats the back, he can keep running and adjust to the coverage," Kitna said. " I thought he had him beat for the 15 yards, and he went deeper. I didn't get it out there as far as I would have liked, but that is just one of those reaction type things. The official said something I've never heard them say before. He told me that he didn't see the call because he hurt himself. I know there are six other officials out there. That was just a blown call."
Another thing Johnson can't guarantee is jobs for the coaches and Kitna next year. But like he also did last week, he kept trying after the game.
"We're right where we need to be, man," Johnson said. "I don't care what (anybody) says. Our record doesn't show what we really are. It's hard to climb out the hole we've put ourselves in. We've got something going good, and it might not happen with anything we're doing now, but we don't need to make any changes. Period. Players, coaches — nothing. Every time we lose, they always like to cop out. I'm off of football now. I'm talking about next year. We don't need to make any changes. Period. We're right where we need to be."
:As for guaranteeing wins again, he vows he's not done.
"I'll do it again," Johnson said. "I'm not going to say when, but I'll do it again. I'm not going to say we had it today, but we competed. We had every chance to win."
COOL DRAFT:** The Browns' draft room had a nice day. First-round draft pick William Green (running back Boston College) had a career-high 96 yards rushing, second-rounder Andre' Davis (wide receiver Virginia Tech) had a 15-yard touchdown catch, and fourth-rounder Darnell Sanders (tight end Ohio State) had a 14-yard touchdown catch.
Bengals first-round pick Levi Jones (left tackle Arizona State) didn't let defensive end Mark Word go off for three sacks like he did two months ago against Richmond Webb. The Bengals let Jones go one-on-one and he held up except for two plays, a Word sack and a fourth-quarter holding call .
COUCH THROWS FOR MYLES: With Jeff Burris suffering migraines before the game, Kevin Kaesviharn drew the start at cornerback for the Bengals. When the pain persisted during the first quarter, Burris had to leave for good and suddenly free-agent rookie cornerback Reggie Myles had the headaches.
In his first NFL action from scrimmage in his third NFL game, Myles found himself one-on-one many times with receivers out of Cleveland's four-receiver sets and got burned for two of Browns quarterback Tim Couch's three touchdown passes.
"Mistakes. Both of them," said Myles, pressed into service because of Bo Jennings' season-ending knee injury last week. "I let them get inside
of me. But I'm going to learn from it and grow with it."
Myles didn't seem to get any safety help in the middle of the field. The first score he allowed came with 2:01 left in the first quarter on a 15-yarder to wideout Andre' Davis. The second one came with 2:25 left in the third quarter on a 13-yard catch by Dennis Northcutt. It appeared cornerback Artrell Hawkins blitzed on the play, leaving Myles one-on-one. That broke a 17-17 tie and gave Cleveland the lead for good.
Couch knew where Myles was, particularly on third down when he completed 11 of 14 passes for 107 yards. Northcutt was particularly devastating on third down, where he made five of his six catches for 58 yards. In fact, his only catch that didn't come on third down was the touchdown.
Couch did all that damage on third down without getting sacked. That was aided by the Browns' best running day of the season. Before making the adjustment, Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes said the Browns had them guessing run by formation in the first quarter. They spread them out for the first score, a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Darnell Sanders working one-on-one on against free safety Cory Hall.
" We wanted to give them a run formation," Couch said. "We used the play-action to get the safeties to bite up and get the tight end down the middle. It worked out perfectly."
Defensive end Justin Smith was draped on Couch for some of those third-down passes, but he saluted Couch's use of the quick three-step drop.
"I thought we got good pressure on him. We hit him a lot," said Smith, who worked primarily one-on-one with a tight end or left tackle Ross Verba. "He stood in there and took some shots. He did what he was supposed to do."
But the Bengals were left grumbling about their inability to stop the running game. Green¸who had to leave briefly when he was sick to his stomach, fell just four yards shy of being the Browns' first 100-yard rusher this season and just their third since they returned to the league in 1999.
It was not a good start for the Bengals to life without defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, who missed his first game Sunday after tearing his Achilles' tendon last week. James Jackson added 27 yards on seven carries for a team ranked last in NFL rushing and without its leading rusher.
"They come in here and they don't even have their No. 1 guy," said linebacker Adrian Ross of the injured Jamel White. "They come in with No. 31 (Green) and No. 29 (Jackson), I don't even know their names."
Ross pointed to two factors for Sunday's failure in the running game: Inability to wrap up for tackles and overpursuing the running backs and allowing them to cut back.
Burris is probable for next week as is center Rich Braham (ankle) and defensive end Vaughn Booker (rib cage).