There’s no sense sugarcoating that Cleveland Browns performance in preseason Game 2 Thursday night.
That was a good effort.
Never mind that Green Bay treated the game like a scrimmage and the Browns starters played more than the Packers … it’s been a long time since so much positive came out of a game. The Packers may have seemed woefully disinterested, but it was a game the Browns needed.
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Starting with quarterback Brandon Weeden, who showed a lot of gumption taking some serious shots while delivering passes to receivers.
Weeden’s 12 for 20 for 118 yards included some very nice throws, chief among them two skinny post deliveries to Josh Gordon, a 24-yard pass to Greg Little on third-and-6 that set up a touchdown run and an 18-yard laser to Jordan Norwood late in the half that set up a field goal.
Weeden wasn’t perfect. A screen pass and an out almost turned into interceptions, but there were also a couple drops.
This was the kind of night expected of a guy deemed the starter before any games were played. He stood in the rush, threw confidently and handled himself well.
Running back Montario Hardesty also played well despite a very tough start when he fumbled on the first play.
Hardesty said it was his first fumble since high school, but sometimes it’s not the miscue that matters but how a guy responds.
And Hardesty responded, running for tough yards inside.
“He ran as well as I’ve seen him run,” coach Pat Shurmur told the media folks in Green Bay.
The starting job belongs to Trent Richardson, but the offseason work Hardesty put in with former Brown LeCharles Bentley has shown. He and Brandon Jackson are giving the Browns depth.
If Hardesty ran well, then the offensive line blocked well. Hardesty had holes all night. The defensive line also played better, limiting Green Bay to 69 yards rushing with two rookie tackles getting significant playing time. Yes, John Hughes looks like a load inside. If he can stack and shed in the NFL the way he did in college …
Defensively the coverage was tight all night, and though the Browns were helped by the hapless Graham Harrell’s play at quarterback, they took advantage and did not give in.
Then there was the irrepressible and irreplaceable Phil Dawson, who converted field goals of 53, 47 and 52 yards. If this ultimate professional isn’t a Browns all-time great, then neither is Lou Groza.
A few young players have stood out in their push to earn a roster spot. Among them defensive end Emmanuel Stephens, who has shown up in two starts; linebacker Craig Robertson, who contributed on special teams and when he played defense, and defensive back Trevin Wade.
It would be unfair not to point out that Shurmur also had a good night.
He challenged Hardesty after the fumble – at least it looked like he did on TV, telling Hardesty the team “can’t have that” after the turnover – and gained the Browns 15 yards when he told the replacement ref Mike McCarthy could not challenge a turnover.
Shurmur even challenged his players after the game, when he pointed out that Gordon caught two passes on the same route – he’s got THAT one down – but dropped another easy one that should be caught 10 of 10 times.
The coach got plenty rankled during the week leading up to the game about what was being said, but didn’t get rattled. As a result, his team played the kind of game fans have been craving.
But it also was preseason, with the opposing team playing a very ineffective backup quarterback. The Packers treated the game like a necessary evil, while the Browns are determined to use these games to prove themselves.
It’s not fair to cry about poor play and ignore the good, but ignoring reality isn’t healthy either.
Even Shurmur brought healthy perspective when he summed up these exhibition games while talking about the good elements of the win.
“It’s training camp,’ he said, “and there’s four preseason games that get in the way.”