"We can't seem to do things the easy way," Browns Coach Sam Rutigliano said today after Cleveland held on by the fingernails for a 28-27 victory, its fifth straight win. "I guess we just have a propensity for recovering onside kickoffs."
The Baltimore Colts scored two touchdowns within 1:08 in the fourth quarter on touchdown passes by Bert Jones to tight end Reese McCall and running back Don McCauley.
But in the second quarter, Steve Mike-Mayer was wide on a conversion attempt after a high snap to holder Greg Landry by center Ken Mendenhall. That proved to be the difference.
After each of the Colts' last two touchdowns, Mike-Mayer tried onside kickoffs. The first was recovered by Judson Flint of the Browns, with 1 minute 27 seconds remaining. r
Paul McDonald was inserted at quarterback to kill the clock, but fullback Mike Pruitt fumbled at the Cleveland 40. Reggie Pinkney recovered for the Colts, and Jones took them 60 yards for a touchdown, which came on a five-yard pass to McCauley.
Mike-Mayer converted and tried another onside kick. Thom Darden recovered for Cleveland but created the last bit of suspense for a crowd of 45,369 in Memorial Stadium by fumbling.Autry Beamon of the Browns recovered, and rookie McDonald killed the last 18 seconds on the clock.
Cleveland took over first place in the AFC Central, pending Houston's Monday night game against New England Patriots. The Colts are 5-5.
It would be unfair to Brian Sipe, Mike Pruitt, Charles White and the Cleveland defense to suggest that the teams were as evenly matched as the score indicated.
Quarterback Sipe connected on his first eight passes, was 15 for 16 at one point, and ended up completing 22 of 29 for 212 yards and two touchdowns. His last touchdown pass was a 12-yarder to halfback Greg Pruitt early in the final period, when he beat a blitz.
Fullback Mike Pruitt rushed for 103 yards on 18 carries and caught four passes for 13 yards.
Heisman Trophy winner White of Southern California carried more than in any game thus far. He gained 77 yards on 15 attempts, including two touchdown runs of five yards each.
Yet, White was outdone by Colt rookie Curtis Dickey of Texas A&M, who rushed for 87 yards on 14 carries, including a five-yard scoring run.
Jones finished with 27 completions in 39 pass attempts for 289 yards and three touchdowns, but was sacked five times, had one pass deflected at the line of scrimmage, and was intercepted once.
Other than Dickey, Jones had no effective runners to slow down the pass rush of the Browns. They switched from a three-man to a four-man defensive line in the early going.
Running back Joe Washington caught seven passes for 64 yards and tight end McCall caught two passes for 33 yards, two for touchdowns.
Colt owner Bob Irsay watched the first half on the sidelines and heard the fans boo the Colts by the middle of the first quarter, when Washington was stopped for no gain and Jones was sacked for the third time. When a rainstorm struck, Irsay retired to the owner's box for the second half.
Jones, who was sacked 12 times two weeks ago by the St. Louis Cardinals, was nearly trapped two more times in the second quarter. He had to scramble another time to avoid a sack and had a pass batted down by defensive end Elvis Franks.
The Browns survived three lost fumbles and seven penalties for 58 yards. The Colts were penalized three times for 22 yards.
When it was mentioned that the Browns (7-3) play the Steelers next Sunday in Pittsburgh, Rutigliano said, "Let me enjoy this game first. We'll give the Steelers serious consideration Monday through Friday."
Sipe was able to hand off to four backs and pass to three wide receivers, a tight end and the four running backs. "We used to be a W.W. Woolworth -- five and dime -- operation two years ago," said Rutigliano. "We had no runners; They were hurt.
"Now, Greg Pruitt is healthy enough to help Mike and we drafted Charles White and they all can catch and run. When the Colts got within eight points, at 28-20, we drove right down the field, as well as we have all year.
"We're difficult to defend, with Sipe able to go to so many pass receivers.
Maybe the Colts tried too hard to stop the pass, and that is why we were able to run (211 yards rushing to 110 for Baltimore)."