CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Browns got timely stops and scores in route to their 22-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Browns improved their record to 5-3 with this week’s win and will play meaningful football in November for the first time since 2007.
Initially the Browns struggled to get touchdowns in the red zone and settled for field goals in the early stages of the game. Following a field goal attempt by Buccaneers kicker Patrick Murray, which was subsequently blocked by Billy Winn, the Browns went on an eight-play 3:44 drive, which culminated in a 49-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.
Late in the first quarter the Browns were granted outstanding field position as a result of tremendous ball skills by cornerback Joe Haden. Buccaneers’ quarterback Mike Glennon attempted a pass deep into the middle of the field, which was deflected by Haden and intercepted by Safety Donte Whitner. Unfortunately the Browns were unable to muster anymore than a field goal out of the turnover.
With the score 6-0, the Browns surrendered a 24-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to Mike Evans. Evans was defended by K’waun Williams on the score, who failed to get his head around and find the football.
Following a Brian Hoyer interception, and eight minutes to go in the second quarter, the Buccaneers were deep in Browns’ territory when Glennon stared down Evans entirely too long. With Glennon staring down his target, Tashaun Gipson read his eyes and stepped in front of the throw and collected his sixth interception on the season.
On the Following possession, the Browns offense would again go three and out. The Buccaneers went on a seven-play 3:48 second drive, which resulted in a 40-yard field goal by Murray. The field goal by the Buccaneers would give them a three-point lead with 2:25 seconds remaining in the half.
The Browns responded with a drive of their own in the waning moments of the second quarter but seemingly mismanaged the clock and were forced to settle for a field goal. The field goal closed the Browns’ deficit to just one point with Tampa Bay leading 9-10 at the half. Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine offered his thoughts on the clock management at the end of the first half.
“… It was a situation where once it got to third-and-long, the odds of getting the first down we thought were slim,” Pettine said. “So we went ahead and let it run down, ran the third-down play got some yardage and then kicked the field goal to end the half.”
On the first drive of the second half; the Browns exercised the no huddle in an effort to force the Buccaneers to stay in their base personnel grouping. The Browns drove down to the Buccaneers nine-yard line when the Buccaneers appeared to have forced the Browns into another field goal attempt. During the field goal attempt Gerald McCoy committed a neural zone infraction.
Following the neutral zone infraction, the Browns converted a fourth-and-one to keep the drive alive at the Buccaneers four-yard line. Brian Hoyer would eventually connect with Terrance West for a two-yard touchdown to give the Browns a six-point lead.
With the Browns leading 16-10 Evans struck again with a touchdown reception over the outstretched hands of Buster Skrine who did not locate the football quickly enough to impact the play. With the Buccaneers up 16-17, the Browns would follow up with a pair of short offensive possessions.
With 11:37 to go in the fourth quarter, Hoyer would throw his second interception of the day. The Browns’ offense was hardly in sync throughout the game as they were just 35% in third-down efficiency. With that said they made plays when it mattered most.
Following a three-and-out, the Buccaneers were punting from their own 34-yard line when Craig Robertson got a hand on the football and deflected it. The blocked punt gave the Browns outstanding field position with 9:42 left in the fourth quarter. Robertson spoke about the blocked punt after the game.
“To be honest, it was all Tank [Carder]. I had the block, but Tank took out two guys and it made me free. That is a big credit to him and the whole team as a unit. It’s not one person; we do it as a team.”
Starting at the Buccaneers 35-yard line, Brian Hoyer threw a strike to rookie wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for his first touchdown of his career. The Buccaneers were in cover-three and Gabriel was still able to get deeper than the deepest defender on the play. Hoyer reflected on the game winning score.
“… I felt like there was no one out there so I just bought time. We got some big plays on that this year and that’s something I talked with the receivers about. I said, ‘If you see me looking around, Just go deep.’ Gabes [Taylor Gabriel] did a great job and got a touchdown. It doesn’t always have to be the way you draw it up.”
Gabriel led all Browns’ receivers with five receptions for 87 yards. On the score, Terrance West showed us all that he’s been working to round out his game as an NFL running back. West provided a critical block that gave Hoyer ample time to make the throw down field to Gabriel. Gabriel’s touchdown put the Browns ahead by the final score of 22-17.
Areas for Improvement
- Heading into divisional play, the Browns are going to need to do a better job against the run. While they shored up their run fits in the second half, the Browns had already given up 77 yards to Bobby Rainey. The Browns gave up a total of 113 yards on the ground. The linebackers are going to need to do a better job of keeping their outside arm free, getting downhill, and arriving at the ball carrier with bad intentions. Easier said than done, but it must happen if they wish to be recognized among the elite teams in their conference.
- The Browns must also find a way to sustain offense. The Browns are going three-and-out, far-too-often. The loss of Alex Mack has obviously hindered the Browns’ rushing attack, and has made it incredibly difficult for them to generate a surge up front. Nick McDonald is serviceable, but he has shown he can be pushed around by defensive tackles with great power. Defensive tackles with outstanding speed like Gerald McCoy are able to utilize a quick first step in order to cross his face as well. The Browns should look to utilize the quick passing game more often to offset these weaknesses.
- The Browns’ secondary gave away some plays, but they also made big plays in this game. Whitner seemed to always be around the football as he had five tackles and an interception on the day. Gipson continues to perform at an All-Pro level, Haden played like a top-three cornerback in the NFL, and Justin Gilbert is growing more and more confident with each passing week.
- The Browns continue to get pressure up front in an effort to make opposing quarterbacks feel uncomfortable in the pocket. Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo both collected sacks on the afternoon.
- Terrance West takes a lot of heat from fans and media pundits for not attacking every perceived opening with extreme aggression and he shouldn’t. West is a guy that sets up blocks and maximizes yards unlike any running back on the Browns roster. He has exceptional vision and he catches the ball extremely well out of the backfield. West is also becoming increasingly reliable in pass protection.
The Browns will take their 5-3 record to Cincinnati on Thursday night in hopes of establishing themselves as one of the premier teams in the AFC North.
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