The Cleveland Browns had a very solid dress rehearsal for the regular season on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida. The Browns pick up their first win of the preseason 31-7 over the Buccaneers. The schedule was very kind to the visiting Browns as they had nine days since their previous game against Buffalo while the Buccaneers had only five days since they last played against Cincinnati.
The Browns took control of the game early and cruised to the victory. Now the focus turns to getting the roster set for the regular season. First round of cuts have to be made by Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. There were some very encouraging things to take away from preseason game number three but there are still reasons to be concerned as the regular season approaches.
Terrelle Pryor needed to play on Saturday night. The Browns in my mind were a little to cautious with the former quarterback turned wide receiver. The weather before kickoff was wet and they didn’t want Pryor to aggravate his hamstring again, but how will he make the 53-man roster if he doesn’t at least get some game action under his belt. Pryor should make it past the roster cut down to 75 players on Tuesday. Hopefully, he will get some action in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Bears in Chicago. The battle for the final wide receiver spots will be up for grabs in the windy city.
Travis Benjamin has all but locked up his spot on the 53-man roster as both a wide receiver and punt returner. Benjamin got the Browns on the board less than two minutes into the game with a 53-yard punt return for a touchdown. Benjamin also had four catches for 39 yards and most important he looks healthy.
Josh McCown was solid in his performance. McCown who played into the third quarter went 17 of 23 for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The first went to Brian Hartline. The original call was an incomplete pass, but head coach Mike Pettine challenged and won as replay showed Hartline had possession and got both feet down in the endzone.
“It was a drawn up play,” Hartline said. “We had a naked (bootleg) called, and Josh did a great job with his feet and getting out of the pocket. Given the opportunity, I was glad I could make the play.”
After some struggles in the second quarter, McCown set the tone for the second half by marching the offense down the field 78 yards on eleven plays. Gary Barnidge would catch McCown’s second touchdown pass from seven yards out to give the Browns a 24-7 lead and all but put the game away.
“The takeaways: Good opening drives in both halves,” McCown said. “That’s the way you always want to start the half, but we dipped. We had offensive penalties and things that stalled out drives that we can’t have. For the most part, when you go out in a little over a half and put up 17 points on offense, you feel good about it. We certainly did some good things and finished really well with the touchdown to (TE) Gary (Barnidge). All in all, we’re pleased with what we did.”
Thad Lewis replaced McCown in the third quarter and played very well as the current backup quarterback. Lewis was four of five passing for 66 yards. Lewis also carried two times for eleven yards and the final touchdown of the game on a seven yard run in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring at 31-7.
The defense was much better on Saturday night, especially against the run. Outside of a couple of rushes by Doug Martin including the Buccaneers only touchdown of the game, the Browns defense closed up some of the holes from the previous preseason games. The defense also put a lot of heat on top overall pick Jameis Winston. The Browns sacked Winston four times and recorded a total of six sacks for the game.
Cornerback Joe Haden returned to the defense on Saturday night. Just being on the field made a difference for the defense. Winston and Mike Glennon were staying away from Haden’s side of the field which lead to his fellow members of the secondary making big plays. Rookie Charles Gaines would pick off Winston to end the first quarter and play a terrific game before suffering a hamstring injury. Haden was pleased with the performance of the defense all night long.
“I thought we did a better job of getting off of the field on third down,” Haden said. That’s something that we’ve worked on really hard. It was a good start. It felt really good being back out there with my guys Donte (Whitner), Tre (Tramon Williams) and Gip (Tashaun Gipson) in the back end. It felt good to being back out there and playing with them.”
The running game showed some signs of improvement with the addition of Duke Johnson before he suffered a concussion on a hard hit by Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David. Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West combined for 53 yards on 15 carries. Crowell was running hard right up the middle while West was trying to run east and west instead of north and south. The running game continues to be one of the issues heading into the final week of the preseason.