Several times in the week leading up to Sunday's visit by the Tennessee Titans, the coach called out the Browns' faithful. He talked about how crowd noise can make a difference in a big game. He talked about how a hostile environment can make life difficult on a visiting team.
When gametime arrived, the Browns' fans were ready. The Browns were not.
Davis' team gave its fans little to get excited about in an embarrassing 31-15 loss to the Titans.
"It goes without saying how disappointed I am in not only the fact that we lost, but that we played so poorly," said Davis. "We started the game right off with a horrible mistake by fumbling the opening kickoff, giving them great field position and taking the crowd right out of the ballgame."
Quincy Morgan's fumble on the opening kickoff started a slide that ended with the Browns' worst performance of the season.
"It's the first time all year we did not play any of the phases of the ballgame particularly well," said Davis. "We gave the ball up on offense. We took sacks and just couldn't get anything really going. We turned the ball over on special teams. You just can't win games by playing the way we did."
The most discouraging factor in the loss was the play of the Browns' defense, which had avoided giving up big plays in the team's 6-4 start.
"The Titans had a lot of big plays against us," said cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. "We hadn't given up plays like that all year. At the same time, we didn't make any big plays of our own, which is something we've done all season. In our first 10 games, we played this same scheme and the sacks and interceptions would just come. In this game, we weren't getting to the quarterback, we weren't getting our hands on the ball in the secondary. Some days you are going to be on. Some days you are going to be off. We were really off."
In the season's first 10 games, the Browns recorded 29 sacks and forced 29 turnovers, including a league-high 25 interceptions. Against the Titans, the Browns failed to post a sack or create a turnover.
Instead, the Browns watched Steve McNair dominate the game through the air. In a little over one full half of action, the Titans quarterback rolled up 244 passing yards while completing 11-of-17 passes. A big chunk of that yardage came on touchdown passes of 43 and 71 yards to Derrick Mason.
With the Browns shutting down Titans running back Eddie George (23 carries, 51 yards), McNair knew it was up to the passing attack to pick up the slack.
"We had to put pressure on the passing game because the running game was struggling," said McNair, who missed most of the second quarter after Browns linebacker Jamir Miller stepped on his arm. "Derrick Mason, Drew Bennett and Kevin Dyson are doing a great job of catching the football and separating themselves from the defenders. When you have that and guys are wide open, it's easy to hit those guys."
Dyson and Mason each posted 100-yard receiving games, and Bennett turned in the first touchdown reception of his career on a 5-yard slant in the third quarter. According to Browns cornerback Corey Fuller, the success enjoyed by the Titans' receivers was a product of the Browns' gambling defensive style.
"We didn't make any plays, and on top of that I had a couple chances where I could have at least knocked the ball down," said Fuller. "I went to make a play on (a 42-yard, first-quarter pass from McNair to Dyson), and it just didn't happen. Teams know we are going to play an aggressive style of defense and they try to take advantage of that. We try to make plays, and we just didn't make them."
The 42-yard hookup between McNair and Dyson set up a 29-yard field goal by Joe Nedney that extended the Titans' lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter. The Titans built a 14-0 first-quarter lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Eddie George and McNair's 43-yard scoring connection with Mason.
George's scoring run, which came just five plays after Morgan's fumble of the opening kickoff, was the first touchdown surrendered by the Browns in the first quarter all season. Not only did the Browns fall behind on George's touchdown run, they lost arguably their best defensive player when defensive end Courtney Brown suffered a high left ankle sprain.
The Browns' offense had just as much difficulty making plays as the defense. Tim Couch (17-of-26, 110 yards) gave the fans a glimmer of hope midway through the second quarter, engineering an 11-play, 61-yard drive that ended with his 10-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Johnson. The score cut the Titans' lead to 17-7 with 5:57 left in the first half.
"We had one real spark to get it to 17-7 at halftime," said Davis. "We had a really promising, well-executed drive that we took down to score our only (first-half) touchdown. It was very efficient. We converted some third downs and we made a fourth-down conversion to keep the drive alive. It's disappointing that we don't make plays on a more consistent basis."
Overall, the Browns offense managed just 282 net yards. Most of that total came in the fourth quarter with backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb calling the signals. Holcomb closed the scoring with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Johnson.
With four of their final five games on the road, the Browns know their poor performance against the Titans was a big blow to their playoff hopes.
"We can't afford to have a game like this at home, not in the middle of a playoff race," said safety Devin Bush. "It's hard enough to win when you are playing on the road. You just can't go to the playoffs losing at home."
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