CLEVELAND — Stunned by the striking turn of events, kicker Phil Dawson grabbed a seat on an orange cooler on Cleveland's sideline and stared in disbelief.
Dawson thought he had seen it all during 13 years with the Browns. On Sunday, he learned of another way to lose.
"We had a chance to win," he said. "But we didn't."
With the Browns, that's almost always the case.
Dawson missed a 22-yard field goal when Cleveland's placement team botched a snap with just more than 2 minutes left, giving the St. Louis Rams a 13-12 win over the bungling Browns, who again failed to score a touchdown at home and couldn't count on their accurate kicker to bail them out.
The Browns (3-6), who have lost games in bizarre ways over the years, again left the field shaking their heads.
"Crazy," said cornerback Joe Haden.
"Embarrassing," said wide receiver Josh Cribbs.
On fourth down at the Rams' 4-yard line with 2:13 left, Dawson, who made four field goals despite blustery conditions at Browns Stadium, trotted onto the field for an attempt that wasn't much longer than an extra point.
It seemed routine, a gimme.
It was anything but.
Ryan Pontbriand, the Browns' exceptional long snapper, double-clutched his snap, which deflected off the right foot of center Alex Mack, who lines up at guard for field-goal attempts. The ball bounced back to holder Brad Maynard, who did a great job of placing it for Dawson.
However, the veteran's timing was thrown off and Dawson missed the chip shot, the ball straying left of the upright.
"It's a tough way to end things." said Dawson, who has endured years of frustration as the only player left from Cleveland's 1999 expansion team.
Pontbriand accepted blame for the gaffe.
"It's on me," Pontbriand said. "My fault. It's my job to get the ball back there and it didn't get there."
The loss was particularly tough for first-year Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who spent the previous two seasons as the Rams' offensive coordinator and wanted to put on a good show for his former team. Now, with Cleveland's schedule soon to become much more difficult, Shurmur's rookie season with the Browns is shaping up to be a rough one.
"We didn't take care of the basics at the end," he said. "We were in position to win. I'm disappointed we lost. It hasn't sunk in enough to go through my head yet. I've got a thick head."
Steven Jackson rushed for 128 yards for St. Louis (2-7), which got a TD pass from quarterback Sam Bradford to Brandon Lloyd and two field goals by Josh Brown to win for the second time in three games.
As Dawson lined up for his final kick, the Rams, who had five players sustain game-ending injuries, were already planning their strategy for a last drive.
They didn't realize they were in Cleveland, where the beleaguered Browns have a habit of horrid losses.
"I thought this stuff only happened to the Rams," Jackson joked. "I didn't think it happened to other teams."
Brown's 34-yard field goal gave the Rams a 13-12 lead with 7:42 remaining. That score was set up by a fumble by Cribbs, who was stripped trying to get extra yards on a punt return by Rams linebacker David Nixon. During the week, Nixon noticed on film that Cribbs had a tendency to be careless with the ball.
"We saw that he likes to have the ball exposed and he doesn't secure it very well," Nixon said. "I saw the ball exposed so I went for the ball knowing we needed a big play and I got it out."
Brown, though, knocked his kickoff out of bounds, giving it to the Browns at the 40. Quarterback McCoy, helped by a personal foul for horse collaring by the Rams, moved Cleveland to the St. Louis 9. But that's where the Browns, who haven't scored a touchdown in more than 123 consecutive minutes at home, got conservative.
After a run by Chris Ogbonnaya, starting because Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty are hurt, picked up 1 yard, McCoy handed off to tight end Alex Smith on second down, a questionable call given Smith hasn't had a rushing attempt all season. Smith fumbled as he neared the line, but it was recovered by Cribbs.
Ogbonnaya picked up 3 yards on third down, setting up Dawson to put the Browns ahead.
As Dawson lined up, Bradford was on the sideline devising a two-minute drive with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
"I was going through my mind the reads I'd have to make and some of the balls I'd have to throw," said Bradford, who went 15 of 26 for 155 yards and beat McCoy, his college rival. "We were talking about what we'd see from them on defense and what we were expecting to call. I was trying to get myself mentally prepared to lead our team back down and score points."
He didn't have to as the Rams, who opened the season 0-6, ran out the clock and got their second win in three weeks.
"Every one of these wins, every one we're going to get the rest of the season, is going to be a scratch, crawl, grab and try to survive just like we did here," said Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo. "Find a way to make a play at the end. Maybe a little luck, we'll take that too."Comment on this story
NOTES: Dawson made kicks of 44, 32, 43 and 27 and converted four field goals in a game 10 times. ... McCoy went 20 of 27 for 218 yards, but the Browns can't find the end zone. They are the only team in the league that hasn't scored a TD in the first or third quarters. ... Spagnuolo said CB Al Harris and TE Michael Hoomanawanui have "significant" knee injuries. Both will have MRIs on Monday. ... Jackson has 30 career games over 100 yards, second in team history to Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson's 38.