CLEVELAND - After two straight embarrassing losses on the
road, the Cleveland Browns needed a spark to get their season back on
They found it Sunday in a return home to Cleveland Browns Stadium and the return to the field of running back Lee Suggs.
On his first carry after missing more than a month of action due to a neck injury, Suggs gashed the middle of the Washington Redskins No. 1-ranked run defense for 25 yards.
Standing on the sidelines, Browns defensive end Kenard Lang spun around to look back at the field as the stadium erupted in cheers.
"Was that Lee?" Lang asked. "All right then, it's on. Let's go get 'em."
The Browns were far from perfect, but inspired by Suggs 82-yard performance and a raucous sellout crowd, they managed to survive another slow start and hold off the Redskins for a 17-13 win.
"It wasn't as pretty as you'd like, but it still goes in the left-hand (win) column," said Browns coach Butch Davis. "I was proud of the way we handled the adversity of the last few weeks."
But in the game's first half, the Browns (2-2) suffered from the same breakdowns that plagued them in losses at Dallas and New York. They blew great field position provided by a 44-yard punt return by Dennis Northcutt when Quincy Morgan fumbled at the Redskins 22-yard line early in the first quarter. Their offense struggled to move the ball, going an ugly 0-for-5 on third down. And their aerial attack was as anemic as ever, with Jeff Garcia throwing for just 64 yards on 4-of-8 passing.
But just as they did in a season-opening win against Baltimore, the Browns kept plugging away and slowly found some consistency on offense in the second half.
"It was just like that Baltimore game, really," said right tackle Joaquin Gonzalez. "We kept at it, and slowly the 1 and 2-yard runs turned into 5, 6 and 7-yard runs, and then the confidence started building."
The key to the turnaround was the inspirational return of Suggs.
"He did a great job at finding creases, exploding through creases, and utilizing the full back and the blocking in front of him," said Garcia. "It's just exciting to be at full strength finally in the backfield. Having Lee Suggs and William Green to share the load is just a great situation for this offense."
But with Suggs showing no ill effects from a stinger injury that kept him out of the season's first three games, the Browns chose to keep Green on the sideline for the entire second half.
And Suggs made the most of the opportunity, running for 57 of his 82 yards in the second half and scoring the Browns' go-ahead touchdown on a 3-yard run with 6:51 remaining in the game.
"It was the first time I really ran the ball in a month," said Suggs, who finished the day with an unexpected 22 carries. "My eyes were going everywhere and I was real hyped up and excited."
Suggs excitement seemed to rub off on the rest of the Browns, as did the energy provided by 73,348 fans after two weeks on the road.
"Getting Lee back was big for us," said Lang. "It was also big to come home and win for our fans - I love this crowd. I love Cleveland. They get a little Budweiser in them, and they are ready to go."
The Browns defense invited the crowd into the game early in the third quarter, stripping Redskins star running back Clinton Portis of the football on the very first play from scrimmage. Defensive tackle Michael Myers dislodged the ball and linebacker Andra Davis fell on it at Washington's 31-yard line.
Just four plays later, the Browns tied the game at 10 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Garcia to tight end Aaron Shea.
Washington re-claimed the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter with a 26-yard John Hall field goal, but at that point, the Browns offense was finally starting to click.
"It was another one of those games where we just kept grinding it out," said Garcia. "We kept willing our way on to the field and finally had some success towards the end of the game."
Garcia finished the day with 195 yards while completing an efficient 14-of-21 throws. He wasn't spectacular, but he made plays when he had to, especially down the stretch.
"My best throw was not the prettiest, but I anticipated where Andre Davis was going to be on a corner route and completed it to him," said Garcia. "It was on the second touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. They were blitzing and we didn't pick it up, so I knew I had to get rid of the football. It hung up there a little bit, but it was probably one of my better plays of the day."
The high-arching throw to a wide-open Davis went for 23 yards, and when Garcia took an unnecessary hit from Redskins middle linebacker Antonio Pierce seconds after releasing the ball, the addition of a roughing-the-passer penalty gave the Browns a first down at the Redskins 3.
Suggs bolted into the end zone on a counter run for on the very next play.
In his first game back, Suggs out-dueled Portis, who rushed for just 58 yards on 20 carries, with the one real highlight coming on a 1-yard, second-quarter touchdown run that gave the Redskins a 10-3 halftime lead.
The Browns nearly squandered their late four-point lead on a failed decision to fake a field goal with 2:21 remaining in the game. Instead of allowing Phil Dawson - the owner of the NFL's longest streak of consecutive field goals made at 18 - a chance to increase the Browns lead to 7 points, Davis chose to fake an attempt from 45-yards out.
Joaquin Gonzalez found himself wide open for a sure touchdown, but instead throwing the ball, holder Derrick Frost chosse to tuck the and run. He came up 3 yards short of a first down and handed the ball right back to the Redskins.
"We will look back on this and be glad we won the game, but we missed the opportunity," said Davis, who called for the fake because the Redskins were selling out for a block and because 45 yards was at the far edge of Dawson's range kicking into the wind.
Two plays after the fake, Laverneus Coles fumbled away the Redskins hopes for a late comeback after catching a 12-yard pass at the Washington 39.
"Until we quit doing that, we are going to be our own worst enemy," said Washington coach Joe Gibbs, whose team lost two critical fumbles in falling to 1-3 on the season. "We have great players and we have to find ways to protect the football. Hopefully, what this shows is you are not going to win football games doing that."