CLEVELAND — Where are the playmakers?
When analyzing the Cleveland Browns' 2010 roster before the season began, it was question that rose to the forefront. In order to win football games, playmakers are needed on offense and on defense.
Recently, the Browns lone playmaker has been a kick returner. Although Cribbs has been a weapon in recent years, he did not directly lead to wins on a consistent basis.
On Sunday, the Browns showcased numerous players with an ability to consistently make plays.
"The thing that has been going on around here for some time is consistency," coach Eric Mangini said. "That's it. You got to keep putting snow on that mountain and eventually it triggers. Everybody makes good decisions each day. There is no magic formula. No short cuts. It's hard work and consistently hard work."
The emergence of unlikely playmakers began two weeks ago in New Orleans when linebacker David Bowens returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
Mundane players continued to be playmakers against New England and the result was a 34-14 throttling of New England. The win broke the Patriots' five-game winning streak and handed Cleveland two consecutive wins over the defending Super Bowl champions and the team with the NFL's best record.
While some of the plays being made weren't as spectacular as Bowens' were, combined they led to the eyebrow-raising victory.
With the Browns leading 17-7, the Patriots drove down to the Cleveland 9-yard line with 30 seconds left in the first half. Tom Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski at the 3-yard-line when Elam met Gronkowski and stripped the ball.
"I fumbled it," Gronkowski said. "It shouldn't be happening because I should have two hands on the ball. I shouldn't be letting defenders get in the ball like that. I have to get low and get down."
Ray Ventrone recovered thus preserving the 10-point halftime lead.
"It was an opportunity for us to make a play," Elam said. "We stole the possession from them because that would have led to points and they were getting the ball after halftime.
"It was a great chance for me to make a play and I did."
Massaquoi's plays weren't as highlight-friendly, but are much-needed - especially as the Browns move forward in the 2010 season. Against New England, Massaquoi led the team with four catches for 58 yards. More importantly, all four catches led to first downs. The Browns finished 7-for-13 on third down and collected 22 first downs.
Role players are important on a team and Elam and Massaquoi fit that description. They are not the household names that their fellow teammates became on Sunday — McCoy and Hillis.
McCoy, who was making his third career start, did not throw an interception or touchdown, but it was his legs that made plays. McCoy scrambled and scored on a 16-yard touchdown run. Later in the game, McCoy used his scrambling ability to extend plays and find his wide receivers, Cribbs and Brian Robiskie, for first downs. Finally, McCoy's accuracy led to his 73.6 completion percentage. Suddenly, the Browns were moving the chains and creating long drives because of McCoy's consistent playmaking ability. The Browns dominated time of possession 38:08-21:52.
"He's done a nice job with his feet," Mangini said. "That ads another dimension with what you can do. It forces different types of rushing lanes from the defense and forces the coverage to hold up longer when you can do that with some success."
Finally, Hillis was the offensive playmaker of the game. He did it on the ground (184 yards rushing) and in the air (36 yards receiving). With playmakers at the skill positions, the Browns were able to dominate New England.
"We know Peyton is going to run hard and run over people," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. "If you give him a little crack we know he'll run guys over and get four yards. In the last two games, in the four-minute offense, teams we knew were running the ball and we still did run the ball. It was a big message."
That message? The Browns are developing some playmakers.