LANDOVER, Md. -- The Cleveland Browns felt certain that Duke Johnson recovered his fumble with 9:32 left in the Browns' 31-20 loss to Washington.
The officials decided otherwise.
So the Browns were left to grumble about three costly turnovers in the final 16 minutes that led to 14 Redskins points. Johnson's fumble did not lead to Washington points, but it was part of a momentum shift away from the Browns as they saw a 20-17 lead fade into their fourth loss in four games.
"Obviously, it was a huge point in the game," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "But hey, they called it. We can't let the ball out. We just can't turn it over. It's unfortunate we put the officials even in that spot. We should be holding on to the ball."
The Browns took the kickoff and drove to their 42, where Cody Kessler handed off to Johnson. He ran left, then fumbled.
The ball bounced right back to Johnson, who stood up from the pile holding the ball in the air. Officials, meanwhile, went to players in a scrum on the ground that looked like players fighting for the ball.
As Johnson stood up holding the ball, officials signaled it was Washington's ball. The video and photos and screen shots from the play painted a bizarre picture, to say the least.
Players said that after the scrum, officials huddled up and line judge Sarah Thomas said she saw a Washington player with the ball on the ground before Johnson stood up with it. Thomas explained the ruling to Jackson.
Thus, the ball went to Washington.
The play was reviewed, which is routine on turnovers. "The on-field ruling was a fumble, recovered by Washington," the NFL's Michael Signora wrote in an e-mail. "It was confirmed as a fumble in instant replay without the need to stop the game. As to the recovery, several different angles were looked at, but with nothing definitive shown, there was no need to stop the game because the on-field ruling that awarded possession to Washington would have stood."
"There's frustration," Jackson said. "But when the official tells you it's already been reviewed and it's their ball, there's nothing I can do. I can yell, scream or do whatever. It's not going to change the call."
The Browns refused to blame the officials; in an earlier loss to Baltimore, they did not blame the officials for a questionable taunting call on Terrelle Pryor.
"I cannot put the team in that situation," Johnson said.
"I just know we can't leave the game in the officials' hands," running back Isaiah Crowell said.