Brodney Pool's big hit at the end preserved Cleveland's second win.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CLEVELAND -- Jets wide receiver Chris Baker had hung on to his one-handed catch, Browns defensive back Brodney Pool had delivered the blow to force Baker out of bounds and field judge Buddy Horton had signaled incomplete.
Cleveland Browns Stadium should have been going nuts. But it wasn't. A crowd of officials huddled near the play. The waiting game began.
"My heart wasn't really beating hard," Pool said, "Those are plays that I live for."
Trailing 20-13 with 1:06 remaining and facing fourth-and-4 at the Browns' 24, Jets coach Eric Mangini had opted to call for quarterback Chad Pennington to throw a deep route to Baker in the end zone. The Browns brought pressure on the play, Pennington got the pass off and lofted a perfect throw to the front pylon on the right sideline. Baker jumped, grabbed it with one hand and was leveled by Pool.
"The thing that worried me was that he was open," said cornerback Leigh Bodden, who wasn't close enough to help on the play. "But I knew he was out of bounds."
After a 30-second meeting, the officials agreed.
Ruling on field upheld
"When I jumped, I made an effort to stay away from the sideline," said Baker, who likely would have gotten at least one foot inbounds had he not been hit. "They decided I would not have been in. I heard one referee saying it was a force-out and the other referee, coming from the side, saying it was not.
"They commented back and forth and said it was not. That's part of the game."
The play wasn't reviewable -- it was a judgment call -- although Mangini called a timeout to make sure. (Said referee Mike Carey, "There was nothing to review. It's a judgment call.") The Browns got the ball, kneeled down three times and secured the 20-13 victory, their first since rallying to beat Oakland 24-21 in Week Four.
"I was pretty far away, so I didn't see it close enough," Mangini said. "Anytime you can get a touchdown and you want a touchdown, the [coaches] in the booth are saying, 'It's a touchdown! It's a touchdown!'
"But they said the ruling was going to stand."
It was a huge lift for the Browns (2-5), who were playing their first game with new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson. Davidson was promoted from offensive line coach after Maurice Carthon resigned (or was fired, depending on what you believe) on Tuesday.
"I think there was a little extra buzz in the locker room before the game and I think that has a lot do with the personality of Jeff," said Browns quarterback Charlie Frye, who completed 15-of-22 passes for 141 yards, a touchdown and an interception. "We gave him a game ball from the offense.
"It was his first win as a coordinator. We expect a lot more of them."
The coaching change seemed to energize the team -- the Browns scored on their first two possessions and held a 20-3 lead -- although playing the 30th-ranked Jets defense probably had a little to do with that. Reuben Droughns ran 33 times for 125 yards and tight end Kellen Winslow had seven catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.
"There was just a different vibe this week," said Winslow, who had been one of Carthon's more outspoken critics. "I think we needed that.
"I think this is going to turn our season around. We had fun out there. It was awesome."
Of course, some Carthon-esque playing calling appeared in the fourth quarter. After the Jets cut the lead to seven with 12:54 left, the Browns ran 12 plays (not counting the three kneel-downs) and eight of them were runs. Cleveland picked up just one first down over that span.
But with the defense playing well -- New York's touchdown came on a 99-yard kickoff return by Justin Miller -- Cleveland left it in its hands. And it delivered, holding the Jets (4-4) to two field goals and 193 total yards.
"It's been an emotional week for everybody," said Frye. "There's been a lot of distractions and we were able to put all that stuff aside and get a win.
"That makes it that much better."