CLEVELAND -- Like his mentor, Eric Mangini is being second-guessed for a late-game decision.
Bill Belichick's gamble cost his team a win.
Mangini's nearly lost him his best player.
Following Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs' scary last-second injury in Monday night's 16-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland's coach said he wishes he would have handled the game's final play differently.
"In retrospect, I would probably do it differently if I had to do it again," Mangini said Tuesday. "You don't want anybody to get hurt on any play."
Cribbs spent several hours at the Cleveland Clinic undergoing tests after being flattened by Ravens defensive end Dwan Edwards on the last, meaningless play. Mangini said Cribbs did not sustain a concussion and he remained optimistic one of the NFL's most dangerous return specialists will play on Sunday in Detroit.
Mangini and the Browns (1-8) dodged a bullet. With their offense unable to produce points -- they've scored just nine points in the past three games and 78 all season -- the Browns can't afford to be without Cribbs, who at least poses the threat of going the distance when he has the ball.
Although Cleveland had no chance of winning, the Browns were still running a no-huddle offense in Monday's closing seconds. Quarterback Brady Quinn launched two deep incomplete passes for Cribbs before the final play.
With three seconds to go, Quinn threw a short pass to Cribbs, who cut back across the field and lateraled to tight end Robert Royal before he was belted by Edwards. With Cribbs sprawled on the turf, Royal was then belted by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis to end the game.
As Cribbs laid on the field, Cleveland's medical personnel and trainers removed the facemask from his helmet and immobilized him for the trip to the hospital. Players on both teams, who had gathered to shake hands, made a circle around Cribbs and knelt in prayer.
While Mangini has been criticized by the Ravens and others for a pointless gadget play, which he described as "a competitive moment." He said the play was not designed to include laterals.
"Josh kind of improvised at the end there," he said. "We were trying to move the football."
Mangini would not say if he thought Edwards' blow under Cribbs' chin was dirty.
"There wasn't a lot of time before the flip and catch, so it's hard to say that," he said. "It's a better question for him (Edwards).
Cribbs' agent, J.R. Rickerts, was disappointed that Mangini would have Cribbs, arguably Cleveland's best player and undeniably its top playmaker, on the field for the final seconds.
"This was avoidable," said Rickerts, who has been trying to get a contract extension for his client. "I don't know if that was the play that was called or if Josh was ad libbing out there, but we could have minimized the risk."
Mangini also defended Quinn for his questionable chop block on Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs after an interception. Suggs suffered a sprained knee and could miss significant time. Following the game, Lewis accused Quinn of a cheap shot and said he should be fined.
Quinn was upset about the play and apologized to Suggs and the Ravens.
Mangini had his QB's back.
"I don't think Brady had any intention of hurting someone," he said. "It's not something we teach or believe in. I take Brady at his word."
Mangini, who typically meets with the media the day after a game, was available only on conference call Tuesday amid reports that owner Randy Lerner was meeting with a potential candidate to head the team's football operations.
Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, an executive adviser with the Browns, said at an area luncheon that Lerner was interviewing "one of the great football minds in this country." Brown would not disclose the person's name but hinted that it might be former Green Bay and Seattle coach Mike Holmgren.
Lerner recently said he wanted to bring in a "credible leader" and Holmgren would certainly fit that description. Holmgren, who guided both the Packers and Seahawks to Super Bowls, decided to take off the 2009 season to spend more time with his family but has indicated he would like to get back into the NFL.
Lerner did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.
On top of all that, representatives from The NFL Players Association are expected to meet with Browns players in the next few days in response to complaints that Mangini is practicing his players too hard. Running back Jamal Lewis griped about "2 1/2 to 3-hour practices" last week and the union has been concerned about Mangini's post-practice "opportunity periods," sessions that have resulted in season-ending injuries to two players.
Mangini, whose job could be riding on the Browns' improvement in the next few weeks, said he's not worried about an investigation.
"I'm comfortable with how much we practice, with our schedule and with our routine," he said. "The union can come in and take a look at whatever they want to look at. There is nothing being hidden here. There is transparency. I'm comfortable with exactly where we're at."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press