At halftime, it looked very much like the same ol’ Cleveland Browns.
They were dominated by the Pittsburgh Steelers especially defensively and trailed 27-3 after 30 minutes.
Brian Hoyer didn’t play well in the first half, but the chief culprit for the deficit was a defense appeared to be butter compared to the Pittsburgh hot knife.
But whatever happened during the intermission may have turned around the entire season, and gave Browns’ fans everywhere hope that this season may be indeed different.
This football team didn’t lay down, and didn’t say woe is us. They came out of the locker room determined to get back in the game and that’s exactly what they did.
They scored 24 unanswered points to tie the game before giving up a last second field goal by Shaun Suisham from 41 yards away to drop yet another season opener, 30-27.
They did it by going to a hurry up offense and by running the football to set up the pass, exactly the way the Browns need to play to be successful in 2014.
The Browns rolled up 183 yards rushing despite losing Ben Tate to an injury in the first half, as rookie Terrence West showed he was worth a higt pick by gaining 100 yards on 16 carries, and another rookie Isaiah Crowell showed his performance in the last pre-season game was no fluke, getting 32 yards in five attempts, scoring two touchdowns.
Hoyer wasn’t spectacular, but he was efficient, completing 19 of 31 throws for 230 yards with a touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin.
The running game was so solid in the second half, we would have run it one more time in the fourth quarter.
The Browns had a first down on the Pittsburgh 35 with 5:20 remaining and the Steelers clearly back on their heels. Unfortunately, Cleveland tried three passes, one completed to Miles Austin for three yards, and never gave the ball to West and/or Crowell.
They were forced to punt, and after an exchange of defensive stops, the Steelers got the ball back on their own 43, and moved the ball enough for the winning field goal after a pass to Markus Wheaton when CB Justin Gilbert, who had a rough debut, fell down.
The biggest problem for the offense all day was converting third downs, making just two first downs in 11 opportunities. The Cleveland defense did much better than last year in the opener, stopping Pittsburgh eight times in 12 tries.
Defensively, newcomers Donte Whitner had 12 tackles and Karlos Dansby had the Browns only turnover, a second quarter interception of Ben Roethlisberger, that the offense, struggling at the time, could do nothing with.
After halftime, the defense improved and wound up sacking Roethlisberger four times, with Paul Kruger doing the honors twice.
However, they had problems all day dealing with screen passes, and as we said before, Gilbert struggled in the NFL debut, which is understandable.
The unit got better when it appeared they put veteran Buster Skrine on the outside.
That’s another thing that is encouraging about this game regardless of the result. How many times lately has a Browns’ team failed to make any adjustments to what the opposition was doing.
That didn’t happen today.
One thing that was painfully evident on offense though, is the team really misses Josh Gordon, because they have no one on the outside that can make plays. Andrew Hawkins was the leading receiver with 8 catches for 87 yards, but he plays mostly in the slot.
One of the other receivers simply has to step up to make it easier for Hoyer to throw downfield and to keep the running game effective.
Whatever happened in the second half has to continue next week against New Orleans, because starting 0-2 is something the Browns have to avoid.
As former coach Pat Shurmur once said, progress with victories isn’t progress.