The Butch Davis-led Browns were competitive in a 9-6 loss to the Seahawks.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CLEVELAND -- There's a new sheriff in town. He's brought a better defense and a much more competitive game. But, Sunday, it brought the same result as the previous guy.
Butch Davis' head coaching debut Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium spotlighted a stronger Browns defense and was a more competitive team than fans saw over the past two years.
But the same old rushing woes that have plagued the Browns since their return to the NFL two years ago contributed to a familiar result -- a 9-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Browns tied the score at 6 with 2 minutes, 4 seconds remaining on Phil Dawson's 24-yard field goal.
Back-breaker: But a breakdown by the Browns' kickoff coverage gave Seahawks returner Charlie Rogers room to fly for a 49-yard return.
That burst to midfield set up Rian Lindell's 52-yard, game-winning kick with three seconds to go in the season opener.
"Our guys gave a tremendous effort out there," said Davis, the former University of Miami coach. "The guys left their hearts out there and gave everything they had. That's the disappointing thing about the loss. But the effort was outstanding, and that's a positive sign."
Davis said the collapse on the final kickoff wasn't from lack of effort.
"Everyone wanted to make a big hit and pin them back deep and then see if we could get the ball back," Davis said.
"But it looked like some guys got caught up and maybe were out of their lanes a little bit, and that enabled them to get some good field position."
An interference penalty by Cleveland defensive back Anthony Henry gave the Seahawks the ball at the Cleveland 45.
On the next three plays, the Seahawks gained 9 yards, forcing coach Mike Holmgren to make a choice on fourth and 1.
Holmgren said he decided to go for it with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on a keeper once special teams coach Pete Rodriguez asked him, "You want to do it now?"
Rodriguez was referring to what would have been a 54-yard attempt.
"As soon as he said that, I lost confidence," said Holmgren, adding that Lindell's kick was so strong and sure that the extra 2 yards Hasselbeck gained made no difference. "If he had only made it by 2 yards, it would have been a great call on my part."
The Browns tried some razzle dazzle on the final play, lateraling the ball several times before the Seahawks stopped them at the Cleveland 31.
Tough to handle: Davis called the Seahawks' front seven one of the NFL's best and said his offense did not see such strength in the preseason.
"[Defensive tackle] John Randle and [linebacker] Chad Brown can really get after you," Davis said. "We haven't been tested like that."
The inability to generate a sustained rushing attack (90 yards on 25 carries) plus a third-quarter interception at the Seattle 20 proved costly to the Browns' offense.
Rookie James Jackson, the starter, finished with 37 yards on 14 carries. Jamel White had 52 on 10 tries.
"We didn't lose by a lot and those are the ones that really get to you," White said. "We need to work on some things because we are a lot better team than we showed today."
Browns quarterback Tim Couch completed 17-of-33 for 176 yards.
"We have to be sharper in the red zone," Couch said. "We got down there a couple of times and came away with field goals when we were looking for touchdowns. We weren't able to do it and that probably was the difference in the game."
Kickers war: Following a scoreless first quarter that saw both teams miss field goal attempts, Dawson put the Browns ahead 3-0 with the second-longest field goal of his career, a 48-yarder with 10:27 to go in the first half.
Late in the half, the Seahawks tied the game on Lindell's 49-yard field goal set up by Hasselbeck's 19-yard pass to wide receiver Itula Mili.
Seattle took the lead halfway through the third quarter on Lindell's 23-yard kick.
The Browns tied the game after Davis won a replay challenge on cornerback Daylon McCutcheon's sideline interception.
After two straight three-and-out series, the Browns offense came to life, gobbling six minutes off the clock while driving to the Seattle 5. But Couch couldn't connect with wide receiver Quincy Morgan on third-and-goal, setting up Dawson's short kick.
The Browns defenders limited Seattle running back Ricky Watters to 97 yards on 16 carries. In all, Seattle rushed for 109 yards on 26 carries.
"That performance was indicative of the way our defense has played throughout the preseason and in practice," Davis said. "Our guys did a really good job of keeping them out of the end zone. I don't think they would have been able to try that final field goal if we hadn't given up the big return."