In more ways than one, this was a special win by the Browns over the Tennessee Titans, a team that had the best regular-season record in the NFL last year at 13-3.
Fittingly, then, the play of the game in the 23-17 preseason triumph on Saturday night at Cleveland Browns Stadium involved special teams.
The Browns had trailed throughout, but they cut the deficit to 7-6 with 8:07 left in the third quarter when Phil Dawson hit the second of his two field goals, this one from 37 yards.
The Browns had marched 13 plays, draining 6:53 off the clock, so the fact that they were that dominant but still could get just three points out of it was a bit deflating. You want touchdowns in that situation, not field goals.
But that disappointment didn’t last long. The Titans’ Mark Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 32 yards to the Tennessee 34. but the ball was jarred loose on a nice hit by linebacker Robert McCune. Rookie linebacker Kaluka Maiava, who has not done much on defense but has played well on special teams, pounced on it at the 34.
The way the Browns players celebrated on the sideline, you knew it was an important play. You could just feel the momentum ready to swing into Cleveland’s favor.
Browns quarterback Brady Quinn went right to work. Whereas Derek Anderson couldn’t get the Browns into the end zone on the previous possession, Quinn did so on this one – and in short order. He flared one to running back Jamal Lewis for 14 yards on the first play. Then on the next one, he hit wide receiver Braylon Edwards for a 20-yard touchdown on a ball that was thrown like a rocket.
Following Dawson’s extra point, the Browns were ahead for the first time –and to stay – 13-7. Advantage: Cleveland – emotionally and on the scoreboard.
That wave of emotion hit its peak when, on the Titans’ second play from scrimmage following the kickoff, Alex Hall intercepted Vince Young and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown, causing the lead to swell to 20-7.
But it was the special teams play that opened the door for all that. That fumble recovery is what changed the game.
So as the Browns try to fix their offense and defense, it will be their always productive special teams that will be asked to carry the club. Based on what happened Saturday, it appears the special teams won’t collapse under that weight.
LANE NOTES: The Browns do work on strip drills in practice sessions, which is every other day or so. That work is evident here.
You have to like the way which Dave Zastudil is exceptional in his directional kicking and how solid the Browns are in maintaining their lanes on the coverage teams.