Work in Sports
CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- Akili Smith felt the Cleveland Browns cost him millions of dollars by using him as leverage to sign top overall pick Tim Couch. Today, he cost the expansion franchise their first victory.
Smith, the third overall pick in the draft, showed veteran poise in his first NFL start as he marched the Cincinnati Bengals 80 yards and hit Carl Pickens with a game-winning two-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left in an 18-17 win.
The rookie from Oregon was the last of the five quarterbacks taken in the first round to sign with their respective team. The Browns, who selected Couch with the first overall pick, quickly signed him to a seven-year, $49 million contract after they failed to make the same kind of progress with Smith, who signed a seven-year deal which could be worth more than $50 million.
"It was like the Super Bowl for me," Smith said. "It was a big game for me, and a personal win. I wanted to show the Browns they made a mistake and I don't want to talk about it anymore."
But he had the last laugh today, completing 5-of-7 passes for 51 yards on Cincinnati's final drive. Smith hit running back Clif Groce with an inside screen for 16 yards to the Bengals 47, and rifled an 18-yard slant to the Cleveland 35.
On a 3rd-and-11 from the Browns 36, Smith hit Pickens with a seven-yard square-in to the left side before completing a nine-yard square-out to Darnay Scott on the right sideline on 4th-and-4 to move the ball to the Cleveland 20.
The Bengals (1-4) then were aided by an 18-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Corey Fuller that moved the ball to the Cleveland 2. After two incompletions, Smith lofted a touch pass to the right side of the end zone, where Pickens outleaped cornerback Ryan McNeil.
Fuller was enraged about the pass interference call.
"I didn't say anything to the referee right after the play, but after they scored the touchdown, I turned to him and said, 'You made a bad call, he said, 'I call it the way I see it,'" the cornerback fumed. "We don't want any more apology letters from New York and I'm probably going to get fined because that's the easy way out. I've been fined so much in the NFL, I'm not going to say what I really about it.
"What am I supposed to do, let him catch it? My job is supposed to stop him from catching it and his is to catch it. The flag came 20 seconds late, that wasn't interference. You didn't see me turn around looking for a flag, did you?" Smith completed 25-of-41 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns -- both to Pickens -- without an interception. After the touchdown, the first-year signal-caller taunted the "Dawg Pound," drawing Couch's ire.
"It definitely angered me," he said. "I wouldn't have any competitiveness if I didn't. I will remember that."
Corey Dillon complemented Smith's efficient day, rushing for a season-high 168 yards on 28 carries. It was his second 100-yard rushing game of the season. The win may have removed some of the pressure off coach Bruce Coslet, who had lost 14 of his last 15 games before today's win.
"Smith did some things, he played well," Coslet said. "He's known since Monday he was going to start and he is more mature than other rookies. That last throw was a pretty nice one, but I think Carl went up and got it."
Couch completed 15-of-27 passes for 164 yards and one interception for the Browns (0-5), who fell to 0-3 at home in their first season. Cleveland had just 224 total yards and hurt itself with eight penalties totaling 81 yards.
"I thought we played well for 59 minutes and 55 seconds and played well enough to win," Browns coach Chris Palmer said. "All we needed was one play and they made that play. It all comes down to they made the plays and we did not."
It was the fourth time in NFL history first-round rookie quarterbacks have faced each other and the second time in as many seasons. Last year, first overall pick Peyton Manning and No. 2 Ryan Leaf squared off when the Indianapolis Colts defeated the San Diego Chargers, 17-12.
Smith engineered a 66-yard drive on the first possession of the game, culminating with a 27-yard field goal by Doug Pelfrey. The second drive stalled at the Cleveland 9 after Smith was sacked on a 3rd-and-1 by Jamir Miller. Pelfrey salvaged that drive with a 26-yard boot to make it 6-0 with 1:51 to go in the first quarter.
Couch, making his fourth start, found his groove on Cleveland's next drive. He hit Kevin Johnson on consecutive plays for 45 yards to the Cincinnati 21. The drive stalled at the Cincinnati 4, but coach Chris Palmer called for a fake field goal, and kicker Phil Dawson raced around left end for his first career touchdown.
Tremain Mack fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which was recovered by linebacker Tarek Saleh at the Cincinnati 48. Couch fired a 21-yard pass to fullback Marc Edwards before the Bengals again hurt themselves with a pass interference penalty, this time a 29-yarder against Ty Howard that moved the ball to the Cincinnati 2.
Two plays later, Terry Kirby bulled in from one yard to give the Browns a 14-6 lead with 12:04 to play in the first half. Smith pulled Cincinnati within 14-12 on a five-yard TD pass to Pickens with 80 seconds to go in the half, completing an 11-play, 85-yard drive. The Bengals converted three third downs on the march, including runs of 13 and 38 yards by Dillon.
A bad snap by center Jay Leeuwenberg on a punt gave Cleveland the ball at the Cincinnati 19, but Couch failed to take advantage and almost gave the ball back to the Bengals when he fumbled on a sack by John Copeland, but it was recovered by tight end Mike Campbell.
Dawson booted a 33-yard field goal to give the Browns a 17-12 lead 51 seconds into the fourth quarter. Couch, however, failed to get a first down on Cleveland's final three possessions.
"There are two ways we can go, up or down," Browns linebacker Jamir Miller said. "We really can't go any further down so we can go up. It all depends on how we react to this."
"I thought Couch did some nice things today, there are things he's going to take and learn from today, like handling the last two minutes of a half or game and being more effective there," Palmer said.
Scott had eight catches for 110 yards, while Pickens had seven for 38.