How Browns' Jordan Poyer coped with that brutal muffed punt

CLEVELAND -- Jordan Poyer didn't drive Browns headlines in a year that included a quarterback mess and a five-game losing streak to end a promising season, but the safety had to overcome a brutal October.

Poyer was an ascending NFL punt returner, a second-year Brown brimming with confidence, before a muffed punt return made him the subject of easy laughs on social media video loops.

"If I could have anything back in my football life, that might have been the play right there," Poyer said.

If you're a Browns fan, you definitely know the play -- Week 7 in Jacksonville, Browns down 10-6 with 6:12 left, Poyer deep in his own territory, ready to field Bryan Anger's punt. Anger's punt was near perfect, sailing toward the goal line by the left corner. Poyer had lined up toward the right side, forced to back-pedal diagonally -- a nightmare scenario even for a player with good hands. He took his eyes off the ball for "one second," he said. He probably should have gotten out of the way and let the ball bounce.

Instead, the ball bounced off his facemask at the 2-yard line, the Jaguars convert the turnover into a touchdown and the Browns lost.

Try living with that for the next 10 weeks. Poyer was the starting punt returner that week, replacing the struggling Travis Benjamin. He never fielded another live-game punt after that Jacksonville trip. The Browns played veteran safety Jim Leonhard before Poyer because of his sure hands, even if Leonhard was no threat to break more than 5 yards.

For a guy used to having his way as an Oregon State punt returner, the forgettable moment was a Vegas-level luck change.

"I'm itching for another chance," Poyer, a seventh-round pick by the Eagles in 2013, said by his locker late last month. "I've got a bad taste in my mouth. Definitely next time I'm in a situation like that, it will be different."

Poyer admits he was shaken up for a few days. He came to work like he always had, then headed home to hole up and regroup. After the game, he resorted to blank stares out of the bus window. That's when special teams coordinator Chris Tabor provided some timely coach speak.

"He told me on the bus, 'Jordan, you're a good football player and we're going to need you the rest of the way,'" Poyer said. "Teammates really encouraged me throughout it. Once I turned the page on that day, I was determined to make an impact whether blocking on Sunday or making tackles."

Poyer had plenty of chances for that, recording 21 tackles and two forced fumbles in special teams coverage and as a backup safety. He played meaningful safety snaps late in the season, finishing the year with 21 tackles and a forced fumble.

His punt return line stayed the same for the final two months -- seven returns for 28 yards -- but he's glad to get his first ugly NFL mistake out of the way.

That doesn't mean he'll laugh off the blooper, though. He knows the play cost his team points.

He still believes he can be a great punt returner, and he's aiming for that chance in Cleveland.

"I've been moved on from it," Poyer said. "I still want the ball in my hands. Waiting for the opportunity when it comes."