May 27, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS — A pair of controversial officiating calls in the final minute of Sunday’s Browns-Colts matchup helped set up Cleveland’s dramatic 39-38 victory and left Indianapolis wondering aloud whether they’d been wronged.

Cornerback Darrell Baker Jr. was on the unfortunate end of an illegal-contact penalty and, shortly after, a defensive pass-interference call that put the ball at the 1-yard line and set up the winning touchdown. The illegal-contact call negated a would-be sack-fumble by Colts linebacker E.J. Speed that was recovered by Indianapolis defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. The play would have, effectively, ended the game.

The interference call came in the end zone on a pass that was high and, arguably, uncatchable. The penalties were drawn by receivers Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones, respectively.

“I don’t agree with the penalties at all,” Baker said. “When those balls are uncatchable, they usually throw those flags out. Especially when they’re initiating the contact with the cornerback. You can put hands on him as long as you’re looking for the ball. I’m not impeding their [progress]. I don’t know what else I could do better on that.”

On the interference call, which occurred along the back line of the end zone, Baker added, “I know [People-Jones] initiated contact with me. And then I saw the ball in the air so if we’re both hand fighting, that’s all right. And we’re both looking for the ball. So, I definitely don’t see a reason why it’s pass interference.”

Baker was only in the game because starter JuJu Brents went down with a quad injury. Baker started in Week 1 but was benched the following week.

The interference call resulted in the ball being placed at the 1-yard line with 33 seconds remaining. The Colts successfully defended on the next three Cleveland plays before running back Kareem Hunt scored on a tough run on fourth-and-goal from 1 yard out with 19 seconds left.

Ultimately, there were other culprits for the Colts (3-4) to point to beyond the pivotal pair of penalties. Quarterback Gardner Minshew threw for 305 yards but committed four turnovers. That makes eight giveaways for Minshew in his past two starts since starter Anthony Richardson suffered a season-ending right shoulder injury earlier this month.

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett produced two fumbles on sacks of Minshew, including one in the end zone that resulted in a Cleveland touchdown.

“It all comes down to winning the turnover battle,” coach Shane Steichen said. “We’re 3-0 when we win the turnover battle. When we don’t, obviously, we’ve lost four. We’ve got to be better taking care of the football.”

Running back Jonathan Taylor, who had 120 all-purpose yards for his best performance of the season, took a similar view.

“[The penalties were] a dagger because you’ve seen how the defense has played and you’ve seen the fight and all that they’ve given,” he said. “The best thing you can do is to not let the refs get involved in the game.”

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