The Browns were trying to keep the Bengals from adding to a seven-point lead on a third down in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton tried a deep pass to wide receiver Josh Malone.
Malone was trying to catch the pass one-handed — cornerback Jamar Taylor had a good grip of Malone’s other arm — when he was drilled by Browns safety Jabrill Peppers, who dislodged the ball and drew a penalty flag in short order. Peppers was called for a hit to the head/neck of a defenseless receiver, which gave the Bengals a first down on their way to a Joe Mixon touchdown and a 30-16 final score.
There was contact with Malone’s helmet on the hit, but Browns coach Hue Jackson said after the game that he thought it was the result of a clean hit by Peppers.
“I didn’t see that [it was a hit to the helmet],” Jackson said, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. “I thought the shoulder hit the guy in the chest. It’s just natural the torque of the head and those things could have brought the offensive player’s helmet down on our defensive player. That’s football to me. He didn’t target the guy’s head. I just think that’s a huge call in the game, you gotta get that one right.”
The Browns may not have been able to rally back even if the Bengals were forced to punt at that point in the proceedings, but the quest for the second win of Jackson’s tenure got a lot harder when that flag hit the grass.