Vikings coach Mike Tice wanted to accomplish certain goals this preseason, and secondarily wanted to establish a winning environment. Some of his primary goals will have to wait another week, but certainly his secondary goal is on hold.
The Vikings' first-team defense got off to a shaky start but appeared to settle in after one bad series. The first-team offense didn't hit any big plays but looked steady in its first drive and solid in its second.
It was after the starters were largely pulled that Cleveland pulled away, eventually winning 27-15 in the preseason opener.
Tice came into the game saying he would play the starters — minus the offensive and defensive lines — for only a quarter, giving the lines a little more work. That first quarter, which would give the most insight into the regular season, started poorly and ended on the opposite side of the spectrum.
The Browns offense was expected to be the Achilles' heel of the Cleveland club, but on the first drive of the game that unit averaged 18 yards per play and needed only four plays to find the end zone. Starting from the 28-yard line, Browns QB Tim Couch found Quincy Morgan for 8 yards to start the game. Then it was running back Jamel White with runs of 5 and 14 before White burned rookie safety Willie Offord for a 45-yard touchdown reception down the right sideline and a quick 7-0 Browns lead.
While the Browns offense was quick-strike, the Vikings took a more methodical approach. Daunte Culpepper used 14 plays to drive the offense 75 yards and tie the game. Culpepper converted three straight third-down plays, the second with an 11-yard scramble across midfield. But D'Wayne Bates was the workhorse of the drive.
Once in Browns territory, Bates caught three passes — of 9, 13 and 7 yards — the last one getting the offense to the 4-yard line. Facing second-and-3, Moe Williams went straight ahead for the touchdown with 4:58 left in the first quarter.
The teams exchanged non-scoring drives, but Cleveland came back for a field goal and a 10-7 lead on the Vikings' first-string defense's last full series. Again, White did the damage, touching the ball on the first four plays for 37 yards. The Browns drove to the 28-yard line but had to settle for a 45-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead with 10:11 left in the half.
With Todd Bouman and mostly second-stringers in the game, the offense picked up only one first down in two series, but the Vikings' second-team defense also stymied the Browns offense most of the second quarter.
The final score of the half was set up by a missed field goal by Doug Brien from 52 yards that fell short with 50 seconds remaining. Cleveland took over the ball and backup Kelly Holcomb connected with Andre King on three passes in six plays for 34 yards. That set up Dawson for another 45-yard field goal to give the Browns a 13-7 lead with 3 seconds left in the first half.
Cleveland quickly added to their lead in the third quarter. On the seventh play of the half, Vikings rookie quarterback Shaun Hill was intercepted on a screen pass by Kalvin Pearson, who found open sailing down the Cleveland sideline for a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown with 4:14 gone in the second half.
Brien came up short on another 52-yard field goal, and the Browns wasted no time in taking advantage of the field position. Holcomb connected with Andre Davis for a 52-yard pass to the 6-yard line. A 1-yard run by James Jackson set up a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Campbell, and the Browns were up 27-7 halfway through the third quarter.
After the Vikings went three-and-out, Cleveland third-string quarterback Josh Booty nearly gave the Browns an add-on to the lead as his passes and Autry Denson's rushes — five for 44 yards — set up the ball on the 13-yard line. Booty then fired a pass to Kwame Cavil, who appeared to catch the ball while sliding through traffic, but the play was ruled incomplete and upheld on replay. On the next play, safety Brian Russell intercepted Booty at the 6-yard line and returned it to the 16.
After exchanging three punts, the Vikings got the ball back midway through the fourth quarter when defensive end Chuck Wiley intercepted a deflected pass to set up the Vikings' final scoring drive of the game.
It started poorly, as third-string QB Spergon Wynn fumbled the ball and was touched down by defensive linemen Mark Word at midfield. But facing third-and-21 from midfield, Wynn lofted a pass for Devin Lewis, who got Pearson called for pass interference at the 11-yard line. Wynn scrambled for 8 yards on third down, and, needing 1 more yard, Jeremy Allen picked it up with a 1-yard dive. Now on the 1-yard line, Allen got the call again and was stopped for no gain, but when he fumbled offensive lineman Bennitte Waddell recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. That late touchdown and two-point conversion pass from Wynn to tight end Matt Cercone with 2:37 left in the game brought the Vikings to within 12 points at 27-15, the final.
It wasn't the way Tice wanted to start the preseason, but he found some encouraging things that he can build on that the missed tackles that plagued the defense are easily correctable, he said.
Alignment on defense and being in shape should help cure the missed tackles, and on offense there doesn't appear to be much to solve, at least with the first-stringers.
Browns Outlast Vikings, 27-15
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