BEREA - Ryan Pontbriand might have a new friend in Browns rookie receiver Greg Little.
Because of Little's four-drop performance in a 23-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday, Pontbriand wasn't the sole topic of conversation at coach Pat Shurmur's Monday press conference. For a short time the memory of Pontbriand's low snap late in the game that caused Phil Dawson to miss a 55-yard field-goal attempt was placed on the back burner.
In some ways it was Little's best performance of the season. He was targeted 13 times by quarterback Colt McCoy, and he caught five passes for 57 yards, including a 3-yard reception for a touchdown.
Those numbers, however, were overshadowed by the four passes he dropped. The biggest was on third down from the Bengals' 37 late in a game that was tied at 20-20. If Little had gained the first down, the Browns might have been able to maintain possession until the final seconds, and Dawson's field-goal attempt probably would have been shorter.
Little showered and left the locker room before reporters entered after the game. Shurmur admitted Monday that Little should have fulfilled his requirement of addressing the media, but he likes the fact that he was angry.
"When the ball is in the air, it's ours," Shurmur said. "That has to be the mindset. We want perfectly-thrown balls that are plucked out of the air. You tuck it and run with it.
"You can't drop footballs. You have to be able to throw and catch in this league. You just have to. I don't look for it to be a trend."
Little was picked in the second round of the draft after missing all of last season at North Carolina when the NCAA discovered he had signed with an agent. Four preseason games and 11 regular-season games later, Shurmur isn't going to use rust as an excuse.
"He's no longer a rookie in my eyes," Shurmur said. "He's played a lot of football, and he's steadily become more productive. The fact he didn't answer questions tells me it bothered him. That's not the proper way to handle it, but it tells me it bothered him. I can work with that."
Receiver Josh Cribbs was also upset after the game, but he talked to reporters for a couple of minutes. He ended the session abruptly before saying something he didn't want to say.
Cribbs wouldn't reveal if he was angry about the way he was used in the offense. He was targeted four times by McCoy, catching only one pass for 8 yards.
Cribbs indicated that he was more concerned about losing another close game. He said he's playing mediocre, at best, and is tired of answering questions about what went wrong.
"I know exactly what's bothering him," Shurmur said. "We lost 23-20. We were ahead in the game, and we didn't win. That's what you want. You want guys that are disappointed."
Pontbriand's dilemma is another matter. If there was one thing Shurmur could depend on entering the season, it was Pontbriand's consistency. Dawson has always called Pontbriand the best long snapper in the NFL. He was amazed how Pontbriand could place the ball in the holder's hands with the seams almost always in a place that made sure they would be facing forward when the ball was spotted.
Now Pontbriand is dealing with a slump that's resulted in two low snaps in a two-week span. Holder Brad Maynard managed to spot the ball both times, but Dawson's timing was thrown off to the point that he had no chance of converting on either kick.
"We can't be in slumps," Shurmur said. "You hold me to that standard. The players hold themselves to that, and I know individually they do as well."