ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Browns had more heroes than points on Sunday as they registered their first win of the year – and their first in 11 months – with a 6-3 decision over the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
One even came from the offense, which otherwise had nothing to brag about.
Here’s the list, in no particular order of importance:
* Punter Dave Zastudil. He was the hero of the heroes with the way he kept pinning the Bills deep in their own territory. Despite battling a wind that blew steady at 15 to 25 miles per hour, with gusts to 35, he put seven kicks inside the Buffalo 20 and averaged 42.9 yards per try overall.
“Dave was outstanding,” Browns head coach Eric Mangini said. “I don’t know how many times he backed them up, but he gave us great opportunities.”
Zastudil refused to take full credit for it.
“Maybe they were good punts, or maybe it was just guys getting down there and making plays,” he said.
Or maybe it was both.
* The defense. After the unit got ripped apart two weeks ago in a 34-3 loss at Baltimore, it made big strides for the second straight week. It played well enough to provide a win last week, but the Cincinnati Bengals made some plays in overtime for a 23-20 triumph. On Sunday, the defense kept making plays throughout, and it resulted in a victory.
OK, so quarterback Trent Edwards and this Bills offense is never going to make anyone forget the Jim Kelly-led Buffalo teams of the late 1980s and early ‘90s, but the bottom line is that the Browns did their job. The Bills got 288 total yards, but they were spread out enough so that the Browns never really gave up the big play. And, most importantly, they surrendered just three points, their fewest since they posted an 8-0 shutout – over the Bills – on Dec. 16, 2007 in Cleveland.
Although the Browns sacked him but twice, they were in Edwards’ face all day, forcing him to hurry throws or heave the ball out of bounds to avoid the rush en route to hitting just 16-of-31 attempts for 152 yards and one interception for a miserable 52.1 rating.
“When we backed the Bills up with our punting, our defense kept them backed up,” Mangini said.
Added defensive end Corey Williams, “We played great on defense.”
And, according to nose tackle Shaun Rogers, “Corey Williams played great.”
He did. He was another individual hero. It was his best game in two years with the Browns.
* Defensive back/special teamers Mike Adams. He was all over the field. When he wasn’t breaking up a pass, he was downing one of Zastudil’s kicks near the goal line.
So, does he consider himself a special teamer or a defensive player?
“I’m both,” Adams said. “I’m just a player. I love playing special teams. They’re nothing new to me. I’ve been doing that a long time. Now I’m getting the chance to play a lot of defense, too. I just love being out there on the field, no matter what I’m doing.”
* Special teamer Blake Costanzo. Just as he did the week before against the Bengals, he recovered a fumbled punt, this time by Roscoe Parrish at the Buffalo 16 as the returner tried to pick up Zastudil’s rolling 57-yarder with 2:59 left in the game and the score tied 3-3. The Browns cashed in with Billy Cundiff’s 18-yard field goal with just 23 seconds remaining.
“I was just trying to get the ball,” said Costanzo, a former Bill who is nicknamed “Psycho” by Browns defensive line coach Bryan Cox for the way he kept hitting people during a mini camp this year. “I knew if I could, that it would be a big play.”
And it was.
“He’s been like that ever since I’ve known him,” Mangini said. “He’s a high-motor, high-energy guy.”
* Billy Cundiff. He’s now hit 5-of-5 field-goal tries the last three games while filling in for Phil Dawson, who has a calf injury.
No big deal.
“You’re supposed to hit an 18-yarder,” he said. “It’s as short as you can get. It’s shorter than an extra point.”
Yes, but the Browns haven’t been making even the simplest plays lately, especially in the clutch. It’s why they had lost 10 in a row going into Sunday.
“I was just trying to get the ball up over the line so it wouldn’t get blocked,” Cundiff said.
* Cornerback Eric Wright. He intercepted an Edwards pass intended for wide receiver Terrell Owens at the Cleveland 8 near the end of the third quarter, thus making sure the game stay tied 3-3.
“It turned the tide back in our favor because the Bills had gotten the ball on an interception (off quarterback Derek Anderson at the 50),” Wright said. “There wasn’t much to it. I turned around, the ball was there and I caught it.”
* Running back Jamal Lewis. The lone offensive player being listed, he went over 100 yards rushing for the first time since the 2007 season finale against the San Francisco 49ers, getting 117 in 31 attempts for a 3.8 yards-per-carry average. He appeared to have crossed the goal line on a third-and-goal run from the 4 late in the game, but he was ruled down just inches short. He thought he had scored as well.
But it all worked out OK with Cundiff kicking the game-winner.
“I love the ground attack,” Lewis said. “I had fresh legs. I had two weeks off (because of a hamstring injury), and I had hadn’t had two weeks off in a long time.”
Speaking of time off, Mangini let the players stay home on Monday as a reward for the win. So is the coach a hero of sorts, too? To the players, he is indeed.