Titans rout Browns defense

Published 1:41 am Monday, October 3, 2011

CLEVELAND (AP) — Peyton Hillis was healthier. The Browns looked sick.

Colt McCoy set team records for completions and attempts, but didn’t make enough plays and had a couple he’d like to have back. Cleveland’s defense got scorched for huge yardage in the first half and couldn’t slow Tennessee’s Matt Hasselbeck, and the Browns failed to build off a comeback win with a 31-13 loss Sunday to the Tennessee Titans.

“We took a step back,” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said.

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Or two.

The Browns (2-2) never seemed in sync.

Cleveland’s offense moved the ball between the 30-yard lines, but couldn’t finish drives and settled for field goals. The defense blew coverages, missed tackles and let the Titans (3-1) open a 25-point lead in the third quarter, sending Browns fans by the thousands toward the exits in the second half.

This was no way to reach the bye week.

“Disappointing loss,” coach Pat Shurmur said in opening his postgame news conference. “There are a lot of things we need to do better and it starts with me.”

Hasselbeck, who left Seattle as a free agent after a playoff-filled decade, burned the Browns for three touchdown passes in the first half and safety Jordan Babineaux returned an interception of McCoy 97 yards for a TD as the Titans won their third straight under first-year coach Mike Munchak.

Hasselbeck picked apart Cleveland’s secondary in the opening half, throwing for 194 yards while helping the Titans build a 21-6 lead.

That was too much for McCoy and the Browns’ offense to overcome.

McCoy went 40 of 61 for 350 yards and one TD against the league’s No. 1-ranked defense, which sacked him three times and chased Cleveland’s young QB all afternoon. But as he tried to rally Cleveland in the second half, McCoy forced a pass for Hillis that was picked and taken all the way back by Babineaux.

“I should have thrown it away,” McCoy said. “I was just trying to make a play. It’s one of those things you learn from and you wish you could take back. That was a dumb play on my part.”

McCoy made it worse by laying on the ground and not trying to knock Babineaux out of bounds.

“He needs to tackle the guy,” Shurmur said. “He had his mistakes like everyone else.”

Hillis returned to action after missing last Sunday’s win over Miami with strep throat and flulike symptoms. He rushed for 46 yards on 10 carries against the Titans, but he had just two attempts after halftime as the Browns were behind and forced to pass to get back into it.

During the week, Hillis explained that he lost weight while he was ill, and that he chose not to play after arriving at the stadium because he couldn’t help the team.

On Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported there were whispers in Cleveland’s locker room that Hillis’ decision was influenced by his contract. Hillis is making $600,000 and wants an extension.

“That shouldn’t be an issue,” Hillis said when told of the report. “That’s not an issue in my brain. I’ll go out there and I’ll play. But if I know I’m not 100 percent and I can hurt my team, I’m not gonna risk myself.”

Shurmur said he was made aware of the report following the game.

“You would have to try to find out who is talking and about that because it didn’t come from me,” Shurmur said. “I don’t know anything about that. Peyton was sick, that was my understanding.”

The Browns have other medical situations to worry about.

Cornerback Joe Haden sprained his knee and will be evaluated Monday. Also, wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi injured his shoulder.

Cleveland’s defense thought it might have an advantage against Hasselbeck because of his relationship with Browns president Mike Holmgren, who first had the QB in Green Bay and then traded for him with the Seahawks. But if the Browns learned something from their boss this week about Hasselbeck, they didn’t apply it.

Playing without injured wide receiver Kenny Britt, Hasselbeck threw a 12-yard TD pass to tight end Craig Stevens, hooked up with tight end Jared Cook on an 80-yarder and lobbed a 4-yard score to Damian Williams — all before half, and all but ending Cleveland’s chance to go 3-1 for the first time since 2001.

“Big plays will kill you in this league,” Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said. “Matt did a great job of getting the ball out of his hand quickly. He’s playing well this season and he just got us today.”

After the Browns pulled within 7-6 on Phil Dawson’s 51-yard field goal, Hasselbeck needed just 18 seconds to put the Titans back in command.

Cook got behind Fujita, caught a short pass from Hasselbeck and took off up the left sideline. With Fujita in pursuit, Cook stayed in bounds after a weak attempt by safety Usama Young to tackle him and went the distance, putting Tennessee ahead 14-6 early in the second quarter.

The hole had been dug, and there was no way the Browns were climbing out.

“It was just us,” safety T.J. Ward said. “We missed tackles and we were not on our men like we should have been. We take complete responsibility for that. That’s not the Browns that we’ve been.”

Notes: McCoy’s 40 completions were just five shy of the league record held by Drew Bledsoe (1994). The Browns’ previous record for completions was held by Tim Couch, who had 36 against Tennessee in 2002. Brian Sipe held the club’s previous attempts mark, 57 against San Diego in 1981. … McCoy completed passes to 11 receivers. … Rookie WR Greg Little had a team-high 57 receiving yards.