By Tony Grossi
It was a strange day. Pittsburgh lost. Baltimore lost. Cincinnati lost. The Browns won. That hadn’t happened since Week 15 of 2007.
They won big, 30-7, over the Kansas City Chiefs after spotting the visitors an 80-yard touchdown run on the game’s very first play.
And they won with repeated bursts of creativity on offense and special teams heretofore unseen by coach Pat Shurmur.
And all of this happened after Cleveland was thrown into a frenzy by a report in the Boston Globe that speculated on Nick Saban and Mike Lombardi teaming up as CEO Joe Banner’s dream team to replace Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert. It marked the fourth different national media outlet to link the smooth-talking Lombardi to the Browns. The twist Sunday morning was having Lombardi somehow being the deal-maker to persuade Saban to leave Alabama.
“Let me tell you something,” said a league source with knowledge of both men. “Nick Saban wouldn’t work with Mike Lombardi in a thousand years.”
Browns fans can breathe a little easier about national predictions of another management overhaul after Shurmur produced his widest margin of victory in 29 games as Browns coach, and the team's most lopsided since 2003.
The Browns' third win in a row improved their record to 5-8, exceeding last season’s victory total in Shurmur’s rookie season. The Chiefs fell to 2-11.
The play of the game was rookie Travis Benjamin’s accidental 93-yard punt return for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to erase a 7-3 Chiefs lead. We say accidental because the play was drawn up as an effort to block the Kansas City punt.
First, Benjamin was sneaked into the initial alignment as a gunner, which was a tip-off of some trickery not detected by the Chiefs. Just before the punt, returner Josh Cribbs raced to the line of scrimmage and Benjamin ran back to Cribbs’ position just in case the block failed. It did, but the all-out rush made the Chiefs preoccupied with protection rather than coverage.
“That’s why (Benjamin) was able to catch the ball with nobody in his face. When that happens, anything can happen,” Cribbs said.
Once Benjamin broke to the left side and turned the corner, you could almost see vapor trails left in his wake. Trent Richardson said Benjamin was the fastest person he’s seen in person.
That was the only trick play that actually produced a touchdown. Most of the others merely helped set up points.
* On the first series of the second half, Benjamin ran for 15 yards on a double-reverse with a pitch from receiver Josh Gordon. Variations of that play have been used all year by Shurmur.
But later in the drive, Cribbs lined up as the Wildcat quarterback (for the second time) and scooted 12 yards around the left edge. Cribbs reached the ball over the goal line, but it was ruled his knee touched down first. Richardson finished the job with a 1-yard TD helmet-first vault.
* On the last play of the third quarter, Brandon Weeden lined up under center with an empty backfield. Receiver Greg Little then shifted to the halfback position. Weeden pitched back to Little, who relived his North Carolina sophomore season as a running back and ran 17 yards to the Chiefs’ 1.
After Montario Hardesty recovered his own fumble, on which he tried to extend the ball over the goal line, Shurmur pulled Hardesty and Richardson scored a second time from 1 yard. The two TDs matched Jim Brown’s rookie franchise record of nine rushing touchdowns (in one fewer game in 1957).
* In the first quarter, Weeden relived his glory days at Oklahoma State by lining up in the pistol formation – five yards behind center, with a back, Richardson, behind him. Weeden’s pass intended for Gordon was deflected by Tamba Hali.
“Only thing I was worried about was what exactly happened,” said Weeden, who had two other passes deflected on the day, and two interceptions dropped.
Weeden had trouble reading Kansas City’s mixed coverages and was fortunate to be the beneficiary of a 23-point win despite ho-hum stats (17 of 30 for 217 yards, 79.4 rating).
Still, the creative plays were welcomed by everybody.
“Long time coming,” said Cribbs, who also had a 38-yard punt return. “I think our coach did a real good job. Coach gave (coordinator Brad Childress) the green light and we went with it.”
Tight end Alex Smith said he was particularly surprised to see the Little pitch play put in the gameplan.
“I was all for it. You can’t run the same plays all year long,” Smith said. “I think (the coaches) break up (the season) into quarters. They always go back and do a little summary of what they’ve done and make changes. We’re in the fourth quarter now.
“It was funny because Friday it seemed like we had a real loose practice and guys were having fun. I don’t know if it was the plays being called or guys just being comfortable with the gameplan. They’re gaining more confidence with us.”
The Browns were 6-point favorites for the first time in years. That led to fears of them laying an egg, which looked like reality when Jamaal Charles took a simple inside handoff on the first play, burst through the line untouched and raced 80 yards for a touchdown. He finished with 165 yards on 18 attempts, reversing the Browns’ steady climb to 17th in defense against the run.
“You’ve got to give the credit to Jamaal Charles,” tackle Ahtyba Rubin said. “He’s a fast back. That’s what he does, explosive plays. We just came out a little cold and he picked it up. We just rallied and kept calm and knew it was a long game. Of course it made people angry. You don’t ever want anyone to run on your defense like that.”
The Chiefs suffered the loss of receiver Dwayne Bowe to a rib injury. The widening Browns lead also defused the threat of Charles and put the game in the hands of quarterback Brady Quinn.
In his first return to Cleveland since leaving the Browns in 2009, Quinn was 10 of 21 for 159 yards. He was sacked five times and intercepted by rookie safety Tashaun Gipson.
Any fear of Chiefs back Peyton Hills angrily avenging Joe Thomas’ mid-week lambasting never materialized. Hillis gained 11 yards on five carries. He was hit by more than one Cleveland defender each time he touched the ball.
Thomas said he never saw Hillis before or after the game, and there was no conversation among Chiefs players about his comments. In the end, much ado about nothing.
“It gave you guys a couple articles,” Thomas said with a laugh.
Now, about that Robert Griffin III.
|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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