Both teams came out conservatively in the second half, and got themselves an exchange of punts for their troubles. On the Browns second possession, however, the Browns ground game began to come to life.
Cleveland's offensive line has clearly started to beat down the quick and talented front four of the Texans, as evidenced by a number of runs for ten yards or so on the drive. While the possession resulted in just a 25-yard Dawson field goal, it set the Browns up for further success down the road by not only beating down the speedy Texans front line but by possibly convincing the Texans safeties to cheat up a bit.
The Browns had a very fortunate exchange on the next two possessions. With the Texans driving partially thanks to a dubious pass interference call, Owen Daniels fumbled the ball after being hit by Kamerion Wimbley wiping out the drive. When the Browns got the ball back, Joe Thomas allowed his first sack of the year to Mario Williams, causing DA to fumble the ball. But Thomas covered it, keeping possession. The bounce of the ball in the third quarter allowed the Browns to hold onto their fragile seven point lead.
As the teams exchanged punts in the third, it was the Browns running attack, established early in the game, which finally paid off for the Browns as they kept the Texans defense on the field.
Although the Browns hold onto the lead, the conservative offensive strategy is still questionable, as they have failed to really take advantage of the weak Texans secondary. The Browns secondary, meanwhile, has played admirably without Eric Wright, with Brandon McDonald having a particularly strong showing.
While the Browns offense sputtered to begin the fourth, a nice Zastudil punt put the Texans back on their eleven, a situation made worse after an incompletion and a holding call. With the Texans backed up against the Dawg Pound, two successive incompletions were created by blanket coverage on Andre Johnson (by Brandon McDonald) and Kevin Walter (Leigh Bodden). The Browns secondary really stepping it up today with Wright out.
Tanks to the defensive stand, the Browns got the ball back at the Texans 35 yard line. Again, Chudzinski sticks to the ground, but the resurgent Texans front seven limited what the Browns could do. The only play of note on the drive was a very nice 21 yard throw to Winslow across the middle.
The drive stalled after two Lewis runs got only three and Heiden couldn't pull in a third down. Phil Dawson nails the field goal to make it 20-10.
With the Browns now ahead by two scores, the Texans commit to the air. It turns out to be a mistake as the Browns secondary rises again to the occasion. Schaub is sacked by Antwan Peek after not being able to find anyone open on first down and on second down, Brandon McDonald, yes, him again, plucked off a pass intended for Andre Johnson, giving the Browns the ball back deep in enemy territory. Chud plays it conservative again, using just runs to Lewis and a single throw to Winslow to punch the ball in for a 27-10 lead.
Down three scores, Schaub comes out throwing and in a hurry-up offense. It works, knocking the Browns defense off-balance and allowing the Texans to move quickly down to the 21 of the Browns on three passes. At that point, however, the Browns settle down and at least force the Texans to burn some clock before a touchdown to Owen Daniels made it 27-17.
The subsequent on-side kick failed thanks to Nick Sorensen's recovery, and the Browns went back to grinding it out with the and the ball in Texans territory. Jamal Lewis continued to beat on the Texans tired defensive line, padding his stats and running out the clock.
In all, a game that - per usual for the NFL - went in a different direction than many would have predicted. The Browns were conservative on offense, grinding out rushing yards behind a stellar offensive line which has become a better run blocking unit with Ryan Tucker replacing Seth McKinney. The approach worked, thanks not only to the line's performance, but also due to a surprisingly strong showing by the Browns defensive secondary, sparked by rookie Brandon McDonald and veteran corner Leigh Bodden.
For a Cleveland team that has had good fortune in 2007, the bounces continued to go their way today, and a surprisingly safe approach on offense created enough points to come out on top. Jamal Lewis finished with 29 runs for 134 yards (one touchdown) and Kellen Winslow was the top receiver with 10 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.
The Browns go to 7-4 and, thanks to losses by both the Texans and Titans, look more and more like a playoff team.