If it seemed like there was confusion on the onside kick that helped New England beat the Browns, it might be because there was.
Coach Rob Chudzinski said the Browns “hands” team was aligned properly and became the victim of a well-placed kick by Stephen Gostkowski.
Prior to the kick, the Patriots lined up four players left of Gostkowski, six to the right.
The Browns had three players on their right, five on the left. Jordan Cameron was positioned to the right behind the front wall of three, Josh Gordon to the left. The idea, Chudzinski said, is for the front “wall” to block the Patriots players while the guy with the best hands -- Cameron or Gordon -- falls on or jumps to catch the ball.
As Gostkowski approached the ball, the Browns did not have a player inside the hashmarks. Tashaun Gipson, in fact, was four or five yards outside the hashmark on the Browns left (Patriots right).
Gostkowski seemed to surprise the Browns with what Chudzinski called the “middle bunt,” a dribble straight up the field.
“On the middle bunt, which they’ve shown before and done before, as they start coming in and their guys start converging into the middle, we slide and go, and you go get the ball,” Chudzinski said. “It was a great kick by (Patriots K Stephen) Gostkowski for that type of kick.”
Great may be an understatement.
As the ball rolled forward, the Browns for reasons unknown stayed behind the line 10 yards from the kick even though they could recover the ball at any point. Gipson even seemed to drift a yard back as opposed to going for the ball.
Gostkowski ran along the ball as it rolled perfectly with him. He is supposed to slide at the 10-yard-mark -- the 40 in this case thanks to the penalty on Jordan Poyer -- and cradle the ball.
But at the last second, Whittaker dove for the ball -- perhaps thinking that Gostkowski was going to recover it.
“What his initial assignment is, is to block,” Chudzinski said. “As they all converge and break out of the formation, it’s to go for the ball. My understanding of what he saw was he thought Gostkowski was catching the ball or touching the ball, and he went after Gostkowski at that point.”
Whittaker said after the game he was not trying to recover the ball, but block Gostkowski away.
Those words don’t really mesh with what happened, but it’s what he said.
No Browns player other than Whittaker seemed to be making any kind of aggressive play for the ball. Gipson actually stood back and watched.
Chudzinski said when Whittaker saw Gostkowski close to the ball he tried to recover it. It bounced off his chest and to the Patriots.
When that happened, there were very few in the stadium who did not believe that Tom Brady would take advantage.
With the help of a generous pass interference call on the Browns, Brady led the Patriots to a score in two plays and one penalty.
“We had an opportunity,” Chudzinski said. “We just didn’t come up with the ball.”
Call it a metaphor for the entire afternoon.