CLEVELAND -- Malcolm Johnson’s first carry of the season with the Cleveland Browns did not go quite as planned.
Late in the third quarter of the Browns’ 31-20 loss to Washington, the offense faced a first-and-10 from their opponent’s 16-yard line. But as Johnson moved his way down the field, he was stripped of the football and Washington recovered.
It was the first of three straight turnovers for the Browns, and second that led to a touchdown as they saw their lead dissipate and Washington take the advantage for good. But if another opportunity comes along, Browns coach Hue Jackson will give Johnson the ball again.
“Those things are going to happen,” Jackson said. “I made a choice and a decision to put Malcolm in there and hand him the ball. I might make the same decision again in the future. I may not. I might not need to. We will just kind of take it as it comes.”
After rookie wide receiver Ricardo Louis motioned from the left of the formation to the right, first-year quarterback Cody Kessler took a snap under center, stepped to his right and gave the ball to Johnson.
Johnson hustled toward the line of scrimmage and tried to rush through a crowd of defenders and blockers alike. However, Washington inside linebacker Will Compton jarred the ball loose and cornerback Quinton Dunbar pounced on the loose ball at the nine-yard line.
What followed was a 91-yard touchdown drive that put Washington in front for good.
“He gets work,” Jackson said of Johnson. “He gets enough work, enough work for me to trust him and say, ‘Malcolm, go in there and carry this ball.’ I know everybody wants to make a big point about the fullback here carrying the ball and it was his first carry. It was his first carry in a game. Got it, but I trust Malcolm.
“He is a paid professional athlete that can carry the football. We have conditioned him to do that, to go back there and run the ball and pass protect if need be because that is the way that injuries are. Sometimes, you just have to put guys back there.
“I trusted him in that situation to go do a job. We didn’t get it done. I know there is a lot open to be second guessed because he plays fullback, and so, he never carries the ball. I get all that, but at the same time, I made a decision. It was my decision. I handed him the ball. We fumbled it. That didn’t lose the game. It turned the game, but I don’t think that one play lost the game for us.”
Although the one play did not cost the Browns the game in Jackson’s mind, he will place an added emphasis on holding onto the football, especially against an opportunistic New England Patriots team that is getting back their starting quarterback, Tom Brady, from suspension.
“At the end of the day, it is our responsibility to hold onto the ball,” Jackson said. “We can’t give and put people in a situation to hold judgement for our future. We get to control that. Don’t turn it over. Don’t turn it over and then, there is never anybody second-guessing or asking this or asking that.
“Let’s do our part. Our part is to hold onto the ball. We have to do that better.”