Browns’ Benjamin making name for himself with explosive start to season
With Josh Gordon suspended for the season and a hodgepodge of wide receivers, a legitimate question stood as to whom could be a difference-maker for the Cleveland Browns offense.
Through two weeks, Travis Benjamin has provided a swift answer.
Benjamin does most things quickly on a football field, weaving through the opponent on punt returns and darting past defenders on long bombs. Sunday, he hit paydirt three times, once on special teams and twice on offense.
The fourth-year receiver’s 60-yard touchdown catch gave the Browns a quick burst of energy on their opening drive.
His 78-yard punt return touchdown, which featured a leap of Titans punter Brett Kern, sprung the Browns into halftime with their largest lead – 21 points – since returning to the league in 1999.
The exclamation point to it all was a 50-yard touchdown grab that sealed the deal on a 28-14 victory.
"I always envision greatness, knowing that every time I’m on the field I’m coming out and putting my best foot forward," Benjamin said.
Last week against the New York Jets, he did just that too, scoring the Browns’ only touchdown on a 54-yard connection with Manziel.
"He’s obviously a special player so I’m very happy he’s on our side," Manziel said.
Benjamin’s flashes of brilliance have been spellbinding to watch. In fact, since 2012, you could make an argument that Benjamin has been the key factor in some of the Browns’ more memorable wins.
In his rookie season, he had a 93-yard punt return touchdown in a 30-7 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs, a lone authoritative victory that elicited a rare bit of excitement that season from then-head coach Pat Shurmur.
Before his sophomore season was cut short by a knee injury, Benjamin took over what could have been a disastrous night for the Browns, in which they lost starting quarterback Brian Hoyer to injury against the Buffalo Bills. Benjamin went off, racking up 179 return yards and breaking a 20-year-old record held by Eric Metcalf as the Browns knocked off the Bills.
Last season was ho-hum for Benjamin on the whole but his standout game came in a historic one for the Browns, in which they overcame a 25-point deficit in Tennessee, the largest road comeback by a team in NFL history. Benjamin caught two touchdowns that Sunday afternoon, the second one a game-winning strike from Hoyer in the final minutes of the game.
Sunday, Benjamin’s victim was again the Titans.
"I just told him he might not be allowed in Nashville ever again," Browns head coach Mike Pettine said. "He’s the Titan killer as I called him on the sideline a couple times."
He could also squash another Browns record if his return prowess remains strong. With three punt return touchdowns, Benjamin is just two behind Metcalf’s team record.
"Last year going in, I was kind of hesitant in my steps. This year going in as a punt returner, I want to be the best in the game," Benjamin said. "I sat down and talked to (special teams coordinator) Coach (Chris) Tabor about it and he believed in me. We came to it this year and we’re having a great year so far."
Three years ago, it was Benjamin who was just a decoy on punt returns to Josh Cribbs, a guy who himself had quite an illustrious time in that role in Cleveland. After that first career touchdown against the Chiefs, a rookie Benjamin said he had to "build his name."
Four touchdowns and half of the team’s receiving yards through two weeks will go a long way in doing that.
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