The Cleveland Browns notched their seventh win of the season to improve their record to 7-4. The Browns defeated the Atlanta Falcons by the score of 26-24 as they remain in the hunt for their first playoff birth since 2002.
The young Browns’ cornerbacks appeared up to task early in the game as Gilbert and K’Waun Williams teamed up on the Falcons’ first drive to break up a pass intended for Roddy White. The Browns challenged the Falcon’s wide receiver corps with man coverage across the board and had success doing so.
On the Falcons’ second offensive possession Matt Ryan connected with Julio Jones when Donte Whitner bit on play action and created a void in the middle of the field. With Joe Haden trailing, Jones went 24-yard for a touchdown to make the score 7-0 with 5:59 remaining in the first quarter.
The Browns were finally able to move the chains on their second drive as they benefitted from getting Josh Gordon involved. Josh Gordon had two receptions for 34 yards on the drive, which was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown by Isaiah Crowell, which tied the game 7-7.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Ryan forced a pass to Jones, which was intercepted by Joe Haden. The Browns capitalized by kicking a field goal and taking the lead by the score 10-7.
On the Falcons’ subsequent possession, Paul Kruger put a hit on Matt Ryan, which caused him to fumble. The Browns recovered the fumble and added another field goal to make the score 13-7.
Brian Hoyer threw an interception just prior to the two-minute mark to Kemal Ishmael, which led to an eight-yard touchdown by Jacquizz Rodgers to give the Falcons a 14-13 lead heading into halftime.
With the first possession of the third quarter, the Browns went on a 5:14 drive. Brian Hoyer was sacked in the red zone on third down which resulted in the Browns settling for another field goal. The Browns took the lead by the score of 16-14
Following another short drive by the Falcons, the Browns went on a 4:58 second drive. Their rookie running backs Terrance West and Crowell did the majority of the work on the 70-yard drive. The drive was capped off by a 26-yard run by Crowell. Crowell’s second touchdown of the day made the score 23-14.
The Falcons responded by going on an 80-yard 6:15 drive of their own. Steven Jackson scored on a one-yard touchdown run to shrink the Browns’ lead to just two points (23-21).
With 2:51 remaining in the game, Hoyer threw his third interception of the game. Hoyer spoke postgame about how he felt following the turnover.
“I was down. I really was. That last one, I felt like I lost the game for us. For me, you realize the situation, hope the defense – worst case scenario, holds them to a field goal – and you still get one opportunity to go out there.”
Hoyer’s interception proved costly as the Falcons moved into field goal range. Falcons’ kicker Matt Bosher nailed a 53-yard field goal, which gave the Falcons a 24-23 lead. Due in large part to the Falcons mismanaging the clock, there were still 49 seconds left in the game.
On the Browns’ final drive, Hoyer made timely throws to Gordon, Gary Barnidge and Miles Austin, to put them in field goal position. With five seconds remaining in the game, Billy Cundiff connected on a 37-yard field goal to give the Browns the win by the score of 26-24.
-Paul Kruger finished the game with two sacks on the afternoon and one of them resulted in a Matt Ryan fumble. Kruger’s presence forced the Falcons to resort to shorter drops and heavier sets. The Browns’ goal was to make the Falcons one-dimensional, and Kruger certainly aided them in accomplishing this feat.
-Josh Gordon was outstanding in his first live action since serving a 10-game suspension. Gordon exceeded the expectations of many as he recorded eight receptions for 120 yards. Gordon’s numbers could’ve been even better on the day as he was targeted 17 times.
-The rookie running backs had an excellent game. While many will praise Crowell for his 88 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, West did an outstanding job finding creases in the defense to keep the chains moving when his number was called. Many fans would prefer the Browns give Crowell the bulk of the carries, but West is an outstanding back in his own right. Brian Hoyer shared his thoughts on the young running backs.
“They did a great job. Both of those guys pounded it. I think we knew coming into the game we had an opportunity to run the ball and they did a great job.”
-Andrew Hawkins continues to prove himself as one of the Browns’ greatest offseason additions as the season goes along. Hawkins had 93 yards on just five receptions as a result of his ability to quickly get in and out of breaks.
-Justin Gilbert and K’Waun Williams had very good games, and did a very good job mirroring the Falcons’ veteran receivers throughout the game. Matt Ryan was 27 of 43 for 273 yards and 2 touchdowns and the rookie cornerbacks more than held their own.
Areas for Improvement
-Hoyer cannot afford to turn the ball over at the rate that he did against the better teams in the NFL. While the entire team (coaching staff included) is excited to get Gordon back into the fold, they can ill afford to force-feed him the football. It is important to give Gordon opportunities to make a play on the football, but the Browns will need to take prudent risks with Gordon going forward.
-With the return of Gordon and his ability to stretch the field, a brilliant offensive mind like Kyle Shanahan will soon recognize that the flats are often times open. Utilizing the tailbacks to catch passes in the flats will aid them in their quest to keep the offense on schedule.
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