Cleveland Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin (11) makes a touchdown catch in front of Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor (24) in the fourth quarter of the NFL football game on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014 in Pittsburgh.
PITTSBURGH — Despite the 30-27 heartbreaking loss, the Browns might be on to something.
After scoring just three points and totaling just 101 yards (62 yards rushing, 39 passing) in the first half, the Browns switched to a no huddle offense and had 288 yards in the second half alone.
The Browns finished with 389 yards in total offense, 183 yards rushing and 206 yards passing. The 183 yards rushing was the most the Browns have had since Nov. 7, 2010 when they had 230 against the New England Patriots.
"It was just a change up," Mike Pettine said. "It’s something when you’re, I don’t know how many first downs we had the first half, two or three maybe, but we talked about changing tempo, forcing teams to think a little faster, getting lined up, get some first downs, it gets them tired. It keeps you on the field."
Trailing 27-3, the Browns came out and scored on their first four possessions of the second half, including touchdowns on their first two drives.
"We just said that if we got a good gain on the first play, let’s go and try it," Hoyer said. "Like I said, it was just one play after another and you could see it piecing together, and we really got in a good rhythm. We just continued to keep doing it the rest of the half."
The Browns marched 80 yards in just six plays and 1:33 on their first possession to make it 27-10. On the next possession, the Browns went 59 yards in six plays in 2:31 to make it 27-17.
On their third possession of the half, the offense had a 12 play, 75-yard drive that stalled at the Steelers’ seven and Billy Cundiff kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 27-20. On the fourth drive of the second half, the Browns went 51 yards in seven plays for a touchdown in 2:35 to tie game at 27-27.
Hoyer and the offense looked entirely different in the second half. Hoyer was 4-of-11 for 57 yards and two sacks in the first half and 47 yards came on one play to Jordan Cameron. His rating for the first half was 54.0.
In the second half, Hoyer was 15-of-20 for 173 yards and one touchdown and finished 19-of-31 for 230 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. His rating was 94.8. He was sacked three times.
"It was really just one play after another and those guys were getting pretty tired," Hoyer said. "We knew exactly what we wanted to do. It was quick and you guys saw how successful it was, so it might be something that we obviously have to keep doing.
"We have to keep improving on other stuff too," he said "We can’t drive the field on our first drive and then not move the ball the rest of the first half. It was great to see the character of the team we have, knowing we’ll never quit and we’ll scratch, fight and claw our way back. The margin of error in this league is so small that you have to capitalize on every opportunity that you have."
Pettine said the no huddle helped all phases of the offense.
"I think the tempo helped and the information you gather over a half," Pettine said. "I think it limits the defensive call sheet when you pick the tempo up. You’re getting looks you’re comfortable with. You’re not getting a lot of movement. Guys are just getting lined up. Those guys were fresh, and they ran hard."
Hoyer was asked if the Browns could run the no huddle the entire game now that opponents saw their success.
"I mean obviously it worked, so had it not worked, you wouldn’t be saying that," he said. "I think we have to improve on just playing normal football, too. You can’t always rely on that. Our linemen would lose 30 pounds if we did that all year, so we have to get better at the things we didn’t do so well and with the things we did do well, just have to continue to get better at it because now it’s out there.
"We never ran no huddle in the preseason and I don’t know how much you guys saw of that in the practices, but now it’s on tape for the rest of the league," he said. "It was great, but we can’t put ourselves in that type of hole, especially against a team like Pittsburgh. We wanted to come out today and earn their respect, and we got close, but we have to finish it next time."
Two of the big contributors in the up-tempo look were rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. After a knee injury sidelined Ben Tate, West and Crowell combined for 123 yards in the second half rushing, including two touchdowns.
West had three carries for 9 yards at the half and finished with 16 carries for 100 yards in his first NFL game, including a long of 29 yards. Crowell scored a touchdown on his first NFL carry from three yards out and then scored again on a 15-yard run. He finished with 32 yards on just five carries, including the two scores. His longest run was for 16 yards.
All three of the Browns running backs averaged over six yards per carry with Tate 6.8, Crowell 6.4 and West 6.3. Pettine said the pair took advantage of their opportunities.
"They did," Pettine said. "To their credit, they weren’t wide eyed. They went in there and executed. I thought Crowell was a good change of pace. When you go on the up tempo, West hit a couple of back to back runs and then Crowell had to go in there and clean up the drive.
"I thought they both did a really good job. That’s a perfect example of Crowell. He really was not in this game plan. It was going to be Tate and West. To Crowell’s credit, he prepared like a starter. He went in there and did his job."
"It was a dream come true," Crowell said. "It was really big. It felt really good."
West said the offensive line provided him with room to run.
"The O-line did a great job," West said. "The holes were there. They blocked well."
West said he’s a fan of the up temp offense.
"I love it," he said. "It wears the defense down, too."
Tough Outing: Rookie CB Justin Gilbert was picked on throughout the game in his first NFL action. WR Markus Wheaton caught six passes for 97 yards (16.2 avg.) mostly with Gilbert on him.
"First game for a rookie it was a learning experience," Pettine said.
Wheaton’s 20-yard reception with five seconds remaining set up the winning field goal. Gilbert was asked about his performance.
"Not great and not what I wanted," he said. "I can always get better from here on out."
Gilbert was asked what the coaches told him.
"Keep fighting," he said. "Everybody just told us to keep fighting."
Tate, Cameron Hurt: RB Ben Tate left the game in the first half with a knee injury and didn’t return. He had six carries for 41 yards , including a 25-yard run before the injury. Tate led the Browns with a 6.8 average per carry.
TE Jordan Cameron left with a shoulder injury. He had two receptions for 47 yards, including his first catch for 47 yards.
Pettine was asked about their status after the game.
"We’re still in a wait-and-see deal," he said. "We’ll see soon enough."
Kruger Comes Through: LB Paul Kruger led the Browns with two of their four sacks. Kruger had just 4.5 all of last season. His second sack came the play after LB Chris Kirksey made his first NFL sack in the third quarter.
OLB Jabaal Sheard had the fourth sack. Kruger finished with five tackles, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries. Sheard had three tackles, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry.
The Hawk: WR Andrew Hawkins led the Browns with eight receptions for 87 yards (10.9 avg.), including a long of 25 yards on 10 targets.
TE Jim Dray had two receptions for 30 yards and WR Miles Austin and WR Travis Benjamin each had two catches for 20 yards. WR Taylor Gabriel had two receptions for 13 yards in his NFL debut.
Bad, Bad Record: The Browns have now lost 15 of their 16 opening games since returning in 1999. Their only win was in 2004. They are 5-27 against the Steelers since returning to the league in 1999. They are 2-20 against the Steelers since winning in 2003.
Hitner: DB Donte Whitner led the Browns with 13 tackles, followed by CB Justin Gilbert, who had seven.
Dansby Pick: LB Karlos Dansby had the Browns interception and he finished with six tackles, a tackle for loss and two passes broken up.
Agnew Debut: Undrafted rookie free agent FB Ray Agnew from Southern Illinois started and picked up the Browns first offensive first down of the season on a two-yard run over left tackle on third and one.
Lonely Guys: Only two players didn’t get in for the Browns. QB Johnny Manziel and OL Vinston Painter. OL Ryan Seymour played on special teams.
The Rabbit: WR/KR Travis Benjamin returned after a torn ACL sidelined him last season. He ran a reverse for a 10-yard gain in the first half. He caught two passes for 20 yards, including an 11-yard reception for a touchdown to tie the game at 27.
Benjamin returned four kickoffs for 85 yards (21.3 avg.) with a long of 28 yards. He also had three fair catches on punts and one return for zero yards.
Bryant, McQuistan, Hughes Miss: The Browns opened the season without three veterans due to injury. They were without the services of two of their prominent defensive line in Desmond Bryant (wrist) and John Hughes (hamstring).
Bryant was hopeful he’d be able to play after having surgery two weeks ago, while Hughes practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, but was held out Thursday and Friday.
The other inactive players for the Browns were DB Pierre Desir, RB Glenn Winston, DB Robert Nelson, LB Eric Martin and OL Paul McQuistan.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Browns have only eight offensive linemen on the 53- man roster and with McQuistan sidelined the other two have been with the team less than a week. Ryan Seymour was signed after the 49ers waived him in the final roster cuts and Painter was on the Broncos practice squad after being released last week.
Kick it Billy: K Billy Cundiff kicked field goals of 39 and 25 yards but the Browns opted to not try for the go ahead field goal late in the game that would’ve been a 53-yard attempt.
New Number: Rookie RB Terrance West changed his number from 20 to 28.
Captains: OL Joe Thomas, DB Joe Haden, OL Alex Mack, DB Donte Whitner and LB Karlos Dansby were the captains for the game.