CLEVELAND (AP)—Call it The Catch That Wasn’t.
Chris Baker’s amazing, one-handed grab in the end zone was ruled out of bounds and not reviewable and the Cleveland Browns escaped with their first win at home, 20-14 over the New York Jets on Sunday.
The incredible catch—or was it one?—by New York’s tight end with 59 seconds remaining was followed by an incredulous ruling and an indecipherable explanation as the Browns (2-5) ended a turbulent week with a much-needed win.
“We finally got a break,” linebacker Andra Davis said. “This is a blessing.”
For the Jets (4-4), a debatable call went the wrong way in a game they didn’t play well enough to win.
“It’s a shame because we fought back,” Baker said. “We made a big play and didn’t get it. It’s disappointing.”
The Jets, trailing by seven after being down 20-3 in the third quarter, stopped the Browns on three straight running plays and got the ball back after a punt with 1:56 left. Chad Pennington, who had an otherwise atrocious day, then moved his club to the Browns 24 with 1:06 left before throwing an incompletion and having a pass tipped.
On fourth-and-4, Pennington dropped back and ducked underneath a blitz from safety Sean Jones before lofting a pass to the near right corner for Baker. The 6-foot-3, 258-pound Baker leaped and hauled in Pennington’s pass with one hand as he soared through the air.
But before he could come down with either foot in bounds, Baker was drilled from the side by defensive back Brodney Pool, who sent Baker sprawling. Baker held onto the ball and the officials did not immediately make a call.
They huddled for several seconds before referee Mike Carey said Baker could not have made the catch in bounds. Because it was a judgment call, the play is not reviewable under the NFL’s instant replay system.
Afterward, Carey said field judge Buddy Horton determined that Carey caught the ball out of bounds.
“There was not a force out on the play,” Carey said. “There was nothing to review. It’s a judgment call.”
Still, TV replays showed Baker making the catch and his body seemed to be in position to land in the end zone when he got rocked by Pool.
Jets coach Eric Mangini called a timeout hoping the replay official in the press box would examine the play.
“We took the timeout to provide a little more time for everyone to take a look at it,” Mangini said. “The coaches upstairs were yelling, `It’s a touchdown! It’s a touchdown!”’
For several minutes, the Jets stormed around the sideline looking for an explanation as Cleveland fans hugged in relief after seeing the Browns finally come out on the winning side of a strange finish.
Browns coach Romeo Crennel had no problem with the official’s decision.
“I saw it the same way the referee did,” Crennel said, busting into a wide grin.
Cleveland’s Reuben Droughns rushed for a season-high 125 yards, Charlie Frye threw a touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow and new coordinator Jeff Davidson got Cleveland’s stagnant offense going long enough to give the Browns a much-needed win.
Against one of the NFL’s most obliging defenses, the Browns built their largest lead of the season, then withstood a 99-yard kickoff return by New York’s Justin Miller and held off the Jets.
On Tuesday, Maurice Carthon was relieved of his duties as Cleveland’s offensive coordinator and replaced by Davidson, the club’s offensive line/assistant head coach. Carthon’s departure was applauded by many of the Browns, who found his play calls questionable and described confusion on the field and in the huddle.
“It’s been an emotional week for everybody,” said Frye, who finished 15-of-22 for 141 yards and threw one interception. “There were a lot of distractions. To go out there and get a win means a lot.”
Pennington was just 11-of-28 for 108 yards for the Jets, who had only 193 yards of total offense, and was picked off twice by Jones.
“I just didn’t get the ball to my playmakers,” Pennington said. “I didn’t throw well enough for us to win. We didn’t make plays to keep drives going and to put points on the board.”
Frye drilled a 30-yard scoring pass between two defenders to Winslow as the Browns opened a a 17-3 lead in the third quarter. Nose tackle Nick Eason then separated Leon Washington from the ball and Cleveland rookie Kamerion Wimbley recovered at the Browns 9.
A touchdown may have put it away, but Cleveland had to settle for Phil Dawson’s 21-yard field goal. However, their biggest lead of 2006 lasted just 13 seconds.
Miller, who set a team record with a 103-yard kickoff return on Oct. 1 against Indianapolis, found a seam up the middle, stepped out of Mason Unck’s arm tackle, sidestepped Dawson and stiff-armed rookie Justin Hamilton on his way to the end zone.
“I feel like every time I touch the ball, I can break one,” Miller said.
Browns OG Joe Andruzzi injured a knee in the first half and didn’t return. Crennel said he will not need surgery. LB Willie McGinest left in the fourth with an ankle injury. … Miller has returned three kickoffs for TDs in his past nine games.
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