It wasn't the prettiest or the most exciting of football games, but I can assure you that nobody within the locker room or fan base of the Cleveland Browns cares about such things this Sunday. The Browns jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the San Diego Chargers in the first quarter before doing next to nothing on offense during the final 49 minutes of play, but Cleveland's bend-but-don't-break defense along with the wind and rain kept San Diego out of the end zone and also out of field goal range when it mattered most. There was to be no "coulda, shoulda, woulda" from Cleveland on this afternoon, and the Browns have all of a sudden won two of their last three.
Browns beat Chargers 7-6: Real deal
Is there still anybody out there who doubts the toughness and ability of Trent Richardson? The rookie was the best offensive player on the field on a wet and windy day that was ideal for a tenacious running back. Besides earning 122 yards on 24 carries (5.1 yards per carry), Richardson also gave multiple examples of his ability to break tackles, remain on his feet and earn additional yards. His best moment and the game's only touchdown highlight came with under 4:30 to go in the first quarter, when he broke a few tackles and was then somewhat comically helped to remain moving forward by guard Shawn Lauvao. Richardson then, as if not slowed down one bit, outran everybody else into the end zone for the opening, and ultimately the only, touchdown of the afternoon.
Richardson is without a doubt Cleveland's best and most important offensive weapon, and not just from out of the backfield. I understand Richardson not getting 30+ touches until he is fully recovered from his abdominal injury, but I would, in the future, like to see Weeden target the RB more often. Imagine what Richardson would be able to accomplish if given a head start down the sideline with blockers in front of him on a play that began outside of Cleveland's end of the field.
Browns beat Chargers 7-6: Perspective
It's difficult to use this game as a way to measure how much Weeden is/isn't progressing during his first season, and not just because of the weather keeping both quarterbacks from possibly being at their best. Weeden was again betrayed by the hands of his wide receivers, and no, I'm not just talking about Greg Little (although Little continued to struggle with the dropsies on Sunday). Weeden was far from perfect in his 11-27, 129 passing yards performance, but I was also largely pleased with his decision making. That's something I haven't been able to say after most Cleveland games this season.
Weeden did make a few gunslinger throws, but they were also passes that you see happen in nearly every NFL game. Tony Romo was guilty of two similar miscues during the opening quarter of the New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys game that kicked off about 20 minutes after a Weeden knee sealed Cleveland's second win of the campaign. On a day when Weeden could have cost his team a win, he didn't. I'll take it.
Browns beat Chargers 7-6: Reversing the trend
One could sum up each of Cleveland's first four regular season games of 2012, not to mention last weekend's loss to the Indianapolis Colts, with the following blanket statement: The Browns were one to two plays away from winning. Just as they did against the Bengals two weeks ago, Cleveland closed things out this afternoon thanks to a vital defensive play. With the Chargers facing a fourth and game while near field goal range with under two minutes left to play, Philip Rivers dropped back and spotted WR Malcolm Floyd, who had appeared to break free as he headed toward the left sideline.
Rivers didn't see CB Buster Skrine sitting in zone coverage, however, and Skrine rose up and deflected the ball away from Floyd to send the San Diego offense to the sideline for the final time. Skrine has rebounded nicely since being abused by the pass offense of the New York Giants back on the first Sunday of October. It's good to see, because the Browns aren't a team that has a ton of depth at DB at this time.
Browns beat Chargers 7-6: Loyalty rewarded
Cleveland Browns Stadium may not have been as full as you'd like to see it for a home game, largely because of the weather, but those who stuck it out until the very end got to see Cleveland's second home win of the season. The Browns are now 2-2 at home in 2012, and they really should have opened the season with a victory in Cleveland over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jimmy Haslam era is going to be filled with plenty of "rebuilding moments," but the Browns earning victories at home should never be discounted.
Winning solves everything, as they say, and the Browns giving home crowds happy and positive memories is the easiest way to ensure that those fans return down the road. New Browns Stadium has never been a fortress for this franchise. Once that changes, the Browns will finally be true playoff contenders.
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