After spending much of the last two seasons having a chance to win football games in the fourth quarter, only to see victories slip away, no one should complain about any win.
The Browns did not play an artistic game, particularly on offense, but they made plays when they needed to, and ran their record to 2-1 on the season with a 17-16 triumph over the Miami Dolphins.
Pat Shurmur didn’t get good news when he arrived at the stadium, learning that Peyton Hillis was still too ill to play, and he was sent home. If Hillis watched the contest, nothing he saw made him feel any better until the end.
The west coast offense sputtered and the running attack was ignored early. Colt McCoy started out very inaccurate, hitting just 2 of 8 passes at one point, and his interception set up the only Miami touchdown.
And with Hillis out and Josh Cribbs hampered by a groin injury, the head coach couldn’t get the special teams spark from Cribbs he normally does. The Browns look lethargic.
The Dolphins were poised to score again until Jayme Mitchell forced a Reggie Bush fumble on the Browns’ 22. Cleveland recovered to dodge one bullet.
On their next possession, Miami again moved into Browns’ territory, but Dan Carpenter missed a 51-yard field goal, and that was the wake up call Cleveland needed.
Making Hillis’ replacement, Montario Hardesty, a part of the offense for the first time (two runs and a pass), Cleveland struck pay dirt for the first time, with McCoy hitting Cribbs (who else) for a 33-yard TD pass off a designed rollout.
Miami kicked a field goal right before halftime on a drive that stalled inside the Cleveland 5 right before halftime to take a 10-7 advantage, but by then defensive coordinator Dick Jauron had started to dial the heat up on Dolphins’ QB Chad Henne. The Browns finished the game with five sacks in total. By contrast, McCoy was not sacked at all.
The Browns converted the first drive of the second half into a game tying field goal, and looked to have momentum when they pinned the Dolphins inside their own 5 on the next drive, but a questionable roughing the passer call on rookie Jabaal Sheard gave Miami new life.
McCoy was the benefit of the same call later in the game, and really both calls were ticky tack. No wonder scoring is up in the NFL, the defensive players have to be playing in fear of hitting people.
Two Miami field goals, the last one coming with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter gave the visitors a 16-10 lead, and it didn’t look good for Cleveland, particularly the way the offense was playing.
Suddenly, the attack showed life. Rookie WR Greg Little became a factor, catching three balls. McCoy connected on a series of short passes to keep the chains moving, the biggest one converting a 4th and 4 with a swing pass to Hardesty can gained 10 yards.
Finally, McCoy hit Mohammad Massaquoi for a 14-yard TD pass over the out stretched arms of a Miami defender to give Cleveland their first lead, with Phil Dawson’s extra point, with :43 left. Those were the only balls Little and Massaquoi caught all day.
However, a celebration penalty after the score and a horse-collar tackle on the kickoff gave the South Beachers life.
But the defense did not allow any yards to be gained and when Mike Adams picked off Henne’s last pass, the victory was sealed.
McCoy ended up 19 for 39 for 210 yards, 2 TD’s and a pick, while Montario Hardesty gained 67 yards in 14 carries and caught three passes in replacing Hillis. Ben Watson caught five of McCoy’s tosses for 84 yards.
Defensively, Ahtyba Rubin had eight tackles and 1-1/2 sacks, the same number as Mitchell. Sheard put heat on Henne all day, and fellow rookie Phil Taylor was stout as well.
And, as usual, you can’t say enough about CB Joe Haden, who held WR Brandon Marshall, one of the league’s best, to just 4 catches for 43 yards.
WIth Tennessee coming to town next week, the Cleveland Browns have a chance to go 3-1 going into the bye week. You couldn’t ask for anything better than that.