CLEVELAND, Ohio — When the ball has headed David Bell’s way this season, he’s been pretty consistent for the Browns.
He had dropped only one pass this season entering Saturday’s game against New Orleans. His reliable hands are maybe the aspect of his game that the rookie takes the most pride in.
But his second drop of the year came at an inopportune time during the Browns 17-10 Christmas Eve loss to the Saints, as a tipped Deshaun Watson pass by Bell led to an interception by New Orleans’ Daniel Sorenson.
“He trusted me to catch the ball and I just dropped it,” Bell told cleveland.com after the game. “That’s what it was. As a receiver you take big pride in catching the ball, and unfortunately I couldn’t come down with it there.”
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In the third quarter on second-and-11, Watson looked to Bell around midfield, just near the left hash marks. Bell had to dive forward for the ball, but appeared to get tripped up on the play and the pass went off his fingertips and into Sorenson’s hands.
It was similar to a play that actually benefitted Cleveland earlier in the game, when Browns safety Grant Delpit picked off Andy Dalton in the first quarter.
“He was stumbling a little bit coming out of his break as he was trying to avoid a player so he was going to the ground, and the ball was a little bit more out in front because didn’t anticipate him trying to avoid the other player,” Kevin Stefanski said. “A bang-bang play. You mentioned it. Dave is a young man who we trust and the quarterbacks trust. He has been very dependable.”
When the Browns drafted Bell No. 99 overall in the spring, a big part of what drew Cleveland to him was his hands.
Bell dropped only 11 passes in his Purdue career, a reliability that made up for a sub-par 40 time. That consistency that’s become a signature part of his game is what makes plays like the one on Saturday stick with Bell more, even though it was a miss that came in sub-zero temperatures.
“I’ve been catching the ball for a long time so I just have to concentrate more and understand that with the weather you’ve got to be dialed in more and stuff like that,” he said. “Of course you rewatch the play, but you can’t dwell on it too much. Because any time you think on something negative too much, it tends to eat on you with the future.”
After the interception, the Saints needed only four plays to drive 15-yards, ending with a 4-yard touchdown run by Alvin Kamara to take their first lead of the afternoon, a lead that ended up holding.
Even though Stefanski described the sequence as a bang-bang play, Bell still insists he should have come down with the catch — especially playing alongside a dependable guy like Amari Cooper, who Bell has had a front-row seat to learn from during his rookie season.
“It sucks that it happened and I take full responsibility,” Bell said. “He (Watson) placed the ball where it was supposed to be at. And if I want to become one of the best receivers in the league, I’ve got to make those simple catches. That’s a simple catch. Like you saw today, Coop made a lot of difficult catches. So if I want to get up to that caliber, I have to make the basic catches first.”
Over these final two weeks, with the Browns slim playoff hopes officially dashed, Bell said he hopes to further improve his communication and timing with Watson, and individually getting a better feel for the game as the Browns go on the road to face the Commanders and the Steelers. It will be key considering Watson likes to throw ahead of receivers, throwing guys open.
It’s also about taking the quick lesson from this particular missed opportunity and just moving on.
“Of course you go back and watch film and see what you can do better in that situation, and that’s what I plan on doing,” Bell said. “But I’ve got to put it behind me because if I think on it too much, I think it will affect my performance in the next two games and also in the future too if I think on the drops. Anytime you think of something like that when the ball comes to you next time, you’re thinking of not dropping the pass and then you drop it.
“So you have to think on catching the pass, just think I’m gonna catch it, I’m gonna catch it.”
His track record says he will.
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