Browns-Bills: The Turning Point

For a game that ended in the final minutes, it would perhaps be cliche to those plays as the turning. In fact, Steve King and Lane Adkins feel that the true turning point happened earlier, with the Browns on the ropes...

It would be easy to point to Blake Costanzo's fumble recovery of a muffed punt as the play of the game on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Costanzo, or "Psycho" as he is nicknamed, is one of the Browns' best special teamers, and he proved it on that play by pouncing on the ball at the Buffalo 16 with 2:59 left in the fourth quarter and the score tied.

Seven plays, 15 yards and 2:36 later, the Browns got the game-winning field goal, an extra point-like 18-yarder by Billy Cundiff to defeat the Bills 6-3 and get their first victory in 11 months, ending a 10-game losing streak.

So obviously, that would be a good choice.

Then, too, you could go with the nine punts of Dave Zastudil as kind of the collaborative play of the game. All day long, he kept the Bills backed up in their own territory, which made a bad Buffalo offense even more ineffective with the way the poor field position limited the play calling.

He was the player of the game, so why shouldn't his efforts constitute the play of the game?

But in essence, neither one of those is the play of the game, for Costanzo's fumble recovery would have meant nothing and Zastudil's punting would have gone for naught had it not been for something cornerback Eric Wright did late in the third quarter.

The Bills had tied the game 3-3 on the opening possession of the second half by driving 56 yards to set up Rian Lindell's 36-yard field goal. And it appeared they'd get more when free safety Jairus Byrd stepped in front of a Derek Anderson pass intended for wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, intercepted it and returned it 14 yards to the 50 with 3:41 left in the third quarter.

Quarterback Trent Edwards then threw seven yards to running back Marshawn Lynch to convert a third-and-six situation at the Cleveland 46. The Bills have all kinds of weapons on offense, and it looked as if they were going to take advantage of the great field position to finally get untracked and score the go-ahead points.

They would have likely been the winning points as well, because the Cleveland offense, aside from the running of Jamal Lewis, was doing absolutely nothing. There was no way the Browns were going to put together a long drive and score. So if the Bills got some points, all they had to do was hold on to the ball and not commit any turnovers to give the Browns a short field with which to work.

On second and 11 from the 40, Edwards went for it all, throwing deep down the numbers on the left side of the field to wide receiver Terrell Owens. Wright stayed with him step for step and did a good job of turning around to find the ball and, at the same time, screen Owens away from the play, as if this were a basketball game and he was blocking out Owens. Wright reached up and grabbed the ball and fell to the ground with the interception. - SK

* * *

In the second half, with the Buffalo Bill seeking to capitalize on good field position, the Browns defense rose to the occasion.

Bills QB Trent Edwards read that Browns CB Eric Wright had man coverage against WR Terrell Owens, and quickly concluded that he had a chance to give a struggling Bills offense the big play they needed to shed the pesky and aggressive Cleveland defense.

Owens got off the line of scrimmage cleanly, but Wright did not bite on a moderate hitch move from the Bills WR.

Streaking down-field, Owens gained a shoulder of separation on Wright. Amidst some subtle hand-fighting, Wright maintained inside position on Owens.

Edwards looked at Owens throughout the play, then lofted a pass down the left sideline. Thanks to the nefarious winds which had been swirling in Buffalo all day, the Edwards attempt floated, causing both the receiver and cornerback to slow up a bit to wait for the ball.

Maintaining inside position, Wright found the ball in flight and adjusted quicker than Owens to intercept the pass.

Due to Wright's aggressiveness with Owens, he was not bodied off the physical receiver and made a huge play at a point in the game which the Bills could have taken control. – LA

* * *

The boo birds in the crowd, who had dogged the struggling Edwards all day, turned up the volume to deafening levels. They realized what everyone else did: That Wright had made the play of the game. They realized that pick shifted the momentum over to the Browns – likely permanently. One just had the sense at that moment that no matter where they got the ball and what play they ran, the Bills were not going to score any more points with their offense. If the Browns could find any way to scratch out some points – even with just a field goal or safety – they would win the game.

And that's exactly what happened. Costanzo didn't make the play of the game. He simply made the play that facilitated the Browns getting those winning points. He and his teammates reacted to what Wright had done earlier.

Good for Wright. He has been criticized a lot for his play on defense this year, and he answered those doubters by setting up the Browns for that long-awaited victory. - SK

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