By Tony Grossi
Severe weather turned to sunny skies just as the Browns were preparing to kick off in O.co Coliseum Sunday. Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon were really glad for it.
The rookie passing tandem combined for career highs as the Browns rolled up big numbers on the Oakland Raiders in a 20-17 win. Their 475 yards on offense were their most since 2007.
They exited the stormy Bay Area with their first two-game winning streak in over a year and broke a 12-game road losing streak. The Browns also matched last year’s win total.
They are 4-8 as coaches sweat out the last four games with CEO Joe Banner debating on wielding an ax on football operations.
Through 20 mph winds, Weeden passed for 364 yards and a touchdown. Gordon couldn’t be covered by the Raiders. He had six catches for 116 yards and a 44-yard TD. He was open for another one from 37 yards but Weeden was hit as he threw and the ball was intercepted, one of two Weeden interceptions in the first half.
But Weeden redeemed himself for both turnovers on a coming-of-age drive in the fourth quarter.
It began at the Browns’ 6 and ended with a three-yard TD run by Trent Richardson with 3:27 to play. That drive repelled any hopes of Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer pulling out a game the Raiders never led but never seemed out of.
“Probably the defining drive of the season,” said cornerback Sheldon Brown, whose interception at the 6 protected a 13-10 lead and set up the drive. “It showed the character of the offense. And the coach wasn’t scared to go for it on fourth down.”
Throwing in the shadow of his goalpost, Weeden connected with Gordon (11 yards) and tight end Ben Watson (22 and 7) on key plays to cross the 50. Then came third-and-1 at the Raiders’ 44. The Browns’ pet play – a Weeden sneak – was stopped short.
But after a timeout, coach Pat Shurmur went for it on fourth down. Using a three-receiver formation to spread the defense, Weeden sneaked again – and made it.
Shurmur said, “I had every intention to go for it in that situation, when it’s inches. I thought we had made it on the first (sneak). It’s one of those, well, you can challenge (the spot), well, I’ve been there before. So, used the timeout, discussed it, changed the formation and snuck again.”
Weeden made one more completion of 23 yards to tight end Jordan Cameron before turning it over to Richardson to complete the drive. Richardson’s seventh rushing TD leaves him two behind the franchise rookie record held by – ta-dah – Jim Brown.
Richardson finished with 72 yards on 20 attempts, as he gave way to Weeden and Gordon after the morning storm subsided.
“Josh is a man out there,” Richardson said of the team’s youngest player, whose five TD catches and 19.0-yard receiving average rank high among NFL rookie receivers.
“He’s made strides since the beginning of the year that I’ve never seen any play make so fast,” said Weeden.
Gordon said the team thought all week there would be favorable matchups for him. All it depended on was a break in the weather.
“Prior to the game, it was really raining, then it stopped. I’m glad it did,” he said. “The it got real hot for a while. I was actually surprised when I saw my final numbers. I felt I did pretty good, though.”
Palmer threw together a touchdown drive at the end to account for the final margin. But Raiders coach Dennis Allen was second-guessed for not kicking a field when his team reached Sebastian Janikowski’s range with a minute to go.
Needing two scores to tie, Allen blew the game clock striving for the TD. The Raiders had only 1 second left to try an onside kick, and Janikowski botched that by kicking it out of bounds.
Palmer wound up with 351 yards on 34 of 54 passing. His one big play was a 64-yard TD bomb to Rod Streater over Buster Skrine to close the Browns’ lead to 13-10 in the third quarter.
Other than that, every time Palmer needed to make a key pass, Brown was there to break it up. He was credited with four breakups along with the interception.
“Carson threw a few deep balls at me today. I need to talk to him to see what he was seeing on tape last week when he was preparing,” Brown said.
Why did he think Palmer picked on him, I asked Brown.
“He probably saw an article you wrote that I was too old,” dead-panned the 33-year-old cornerback.
Shurmur was ecstatic to not only leave with a win but also to report no Browns injuries after the game.
The only negative on the day for the Browns was that Phil Dawson’s perfect season was ruined when his 28-yard field goal try in the third quarter was deflected off the mark by 6-6 Oakland tackle Desmond Bryant.
Dawson had made two field goals earlier to extend his franchise-record streak to 29 field goals in a row.
Janikowski, Dawson’s nemesis in AFC Pro Bowl voting, made a field goal from 51 yards but missed from 61 yards as time ran out in the first half.
Dawson hid any disappointment he may have felt about his first field-goal miss of the year.
“We won a football game today,” he said. “It’s hard to come out here and do that. We got out to a lead. They made a run, but we were able to withstand it and finish at the end. It’s just a great team victory.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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