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For the Cleveland Browns, a 27-21 overtime loss

By David CarducciRecord-Courier staff writer Published: November 5, 2001 12:00 AM

For the Cleveland Browns, a 27-21 overtime loss at Soldier Field was simply heartbreaking

For the second week in a row, Mike Brown intercepted a pass in overtime and returned it for a touchdown, completing an unimaginable come-from-behind victory for the Bears.

With just 34 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Browns held a commanding 21-7 lead. That was just enough time, however, for the Bears to complete 9-yard touchdown pass from Shane Matthews to Marty Booker, field a successful onside kick, and send the game into overtime with a last-second, 34-yard Hail Mary from Matthews to running back James Allen.

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Just 2:50 into the extra session, Bears defensive end Bryan Robinson tipped a Tim Couch pass high into the air. The ball sailed into the waiting arms of Brown, who waltzed 16 yards into the end zone to break the Browns' hearts.

Just one week earlier, Brown broke the hearts of the San Francisco 49ers, pulling in a deflected pass off of receiver Terrell Owens and returning it for a game-winning touchdown in overtime.

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"Two weeks in a row, it's an unbelievable feeling," said Bears coach Dick Jauron. "Again, to finish the game that way. You never give up. You've got to give it everything you've got for 60 minutes, and that's what we've done."

The Browns put themselves in position for an emotional road victory by giving it everything they had for more than 59 minutes. Their inability to close out the win in the final minute disturbed Browns coach Butch Davis.

"You've got to be able to finish games," said Davis. "You've got to be able to put people away. When you get a lead like that and with little time left, you've got to get the game over with.

"It hurts. If it doesn't hurt and break your heart, then (the game) doesn't mean anything to you. I know how hard our players played, I know how much they wanted to win the game, and I know how much blood and energy they spilled out there."

After cutting the Browns' lead to seven points on Bookers' 9-yard touchdown grab, the Bears came up with the improbable when backup linebacker Bobby Howard recovered an onside kick at the Browns' 47-yard line. Bears kicker Paul Edinger put the perfect English on the kick, which took a high bounce just off the hands of Browns safety Percy Ellsworth.

"It bounced up over me to the second man in the line (Browns wide receiver JaJuan Dawson), and then when the ball hit the ground, it was a free for all," said Ellsworth. "Everybody was fighting for it."

Ellsworth just got his hands on the ball again 28 seconds later _ the game's most crucial play. On the final play of regulation, Matthews lofted a Hail Mary pass high into the right corner of the end zone. Ellsworth battled Booker for the jump ball, just managing to tip it back toward the goal line with both hands. Bears running back James Allen, who was following the play, lunged for the ball, pulling it in just inches before it hit the end-zone turf.

"We have probably practiced an end-of-game situation like that, conservatively, 25-to-40 times since mini camp," said Davis. "We end at least one practice a week with a situation like that. You try to get (the ball) at its highest point, and spike it if you can. If there is an opportunity to catch it cleanly, catch it. If you can't, you try to bat it to the ground. I think that (Ellsworth) may have been trying to spike it, and then the guy comes running from the 5-yard line, dives, lays out and makes the catch."

The exhausted Browns defense managed to hold the Bears three-and-out on the first possession of overtime, but three plays into the Browns' first drive, Mike Brown broke the Browns' heart with the interception return that completed the comeback.

"I was right in the right spot again," said Brown. "I guess it's just luck. When (Robinson) batted the ball up into the air, I thought 'I can't believe it. Here we go again.' I got the ball and just went in for the score and we won the game."

The Browns' loss spoiled a heroic comeback by defensive end Courtney Brown, who scored a touchdown on a 25-yard fumble return, dominated Bears left tackle Blake Brockermeyer in recording three sacks and batted down two passes in his first game of the season.

Brown gave the Browns a quick 7-0 when he scooped up a fumble that was created by Wali Rainer's vicious sack of Matthews on the second play of the game. The second-year defensive end, who missed the season's first six games with a sprained posterior cruciate injury, returned the fumble 25 yards for the first touchdown of his young career.

"I thought Courtney played extremely well for us, far better than I ever dreamed he would come back and play in his very first game," said Davis. "He was a real presence. He probably played more than he would have with (defensive end) Keith McKenzie getting injured. He had a great presence in the pass rush. He showed why he was such a high pick in the draft."

The Browns lost McKenzie for the rest of the season with a fractured left ankle late in the first quarter. The injury forced the Browns into a three-man rotation at defensive end with Brown, Greg Spires and Tyrone Rogers.

Couch finished 14-of-23 for 211 yards and two touchdowns.


E-mail: dcarducci@recordpub.net

Phone: (330) 678-5460

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