The Browns’ third straight loss included a damaging injury.
Speedy return specialist Travis Benjamin, one of Cleveland’s top playmakers and one of the NFL’s best punt returners, tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament in Sunday’s loss at Kansas City and will miss the remainder of the season. Benjamin needs surgery, which has not yet been scheduled.
“It’s a tough loss for us,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said Monday, “but we’ll have some guys step up.”
Benjamin is the second key Browns player to have his season ended by a torn ACL. Starting quarterback Brian Hoyer tore his right ACL while sliding at the end of a scramble on Oct. 3 against Buffalo, a game Benjamin turned around by returning a punt 79 yards for a touchdown and racking up a team record 179 yards in returns as Cleveland rallied for a 37-24 win.
Chudzinski said Benjamin twisted his knee while planting on a return with 2:34 left in the third quarter.
The Browns (3-5) have already felt Benjamin’s loss. With the second-year wide receiver on the sideline, Davone Bess took over return duties but fumbled while trying to catch a punt on the run in the fourth quarter. The muff was recovered by the Chiefs, who held on to remain unbeaten.
“I had it,” said Bess, who also mishandled three passes, including one on fourth down with 2:12 left. “When I got my eyes up to see where the defenders were, they were there and I must not have had it 100 percent. It’s just discipline. I’ve got to look the ball all the way in and it starts in practice. “
Benjamin, who was drafted in the fourth round last year from Miami, has been a major contributor for the Browns.
He’s averaged 11.7 yard per punt return — sixth in the league — and his 86-yard kickoff return set up a TD for Cleveland on Oct. 20 against Green Bay.
He also had five catches for 105 yards and rushed for 45 yards on an end-around.
Chudzinski said Bess will continue to handle punt returns. Starting cornerback Joe Haden is another option, but Chudzinski would prefer not to use one of his best defensive players.
“It’s unfortunate with his injury, but I’ve got to step up,” Bess said. “That’s as simple as it gets. There’s nothing to talk about, to be down about. It’s just to go out and get it.”