|A strong performance by Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick helped Buffalo overcome the loss of RB C.J. Spiller to defeat the Browns in Cleveland. (AP)|
The silver platter was passed at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday. The hosts were kind enough to hand a victory on it to their guests.
The Browns (0-3) were doomed to their ninth consecutive regular-season defeat by drops, interceptions, overthrows, underthrows, penalties and another discouraging performance by their secondary. The absence of top cornerback Joe Haden (suspension) has simply wrecked the defensive backfield. All that remains is inexperience and questionable talent.
The Bills (2-1) overcame the loss of NFL leading rusher C.J. Spiller (shoulder) with strong run blocking and a fine performance by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who took advantage of poor coverage by hitting his receivers in stride. Not only did RB Tashard Choice fill in admirably for Spiller, but Buffalo received production from receivers not named Stevie Johnson, including Donald Jones (5-42) and T.J. Graham (3-24, 1 TD).
Browns QB Brandon Weeden, who took a significant step forward last week in Cincinnati, took a major step back against Buffalo. He was drafted partially for his big arm, but he has yet to show any accuracy with it. He underthrew WR Travis Benjamin and overthrew TE Jordan Cameron on long sideline passes. The Browns aerial attack was limited to the occasional successful slant and a few dump-offs. The Bills must receive credit for halting Browns rookie RB Trent Richardson (12 carries, 27 yards).
When the game turned: The Browns chopped the deficit to 17-14 late in the third quarter and had one possession with a chance to take the lead but could not move the ball downfield. The Bills responded with a 68-yard drive that culminated in a TD pass from Fitzpatrick to WR Stevie Johnson, who burned CB Dimitri Patterson. The Browns proved they simply don't boast enough offensive weapons to overcome a 24-14 deficit in nine minutes. The Johnson score sealed the Bills victory.
Highlight moments: Spiller didn't last long as his shoulder injury knocked him out in the second quarter. But he did snag a short pass from Fitzpatrick with five minutes remaining in the first quarter and sprint into the end zone untouched for a 32-yard touchdown that gave the Bills a 14-0 lead. His catch and run not only highlighted his speed but spotlighted the confusion that reigned in the Cleveland defense. The Browns offense peaked when Benjamin faked out Bills SS George Wilson in the end zone for a wide-open TD that moved the Browns to within three points in the third quarter. Benjamin proved to be the best WR on the field for the Browns.
- Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick -- 22 of 35 for 208 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT. QB rating of 107.8.
- Bills RB Tashard Choice -- 20 rushes, 91 yards. The ground game could have collapsed when C.J. Spiller went down. Choice made certain it remained viable.
- Browns TE Jordan Cameron -- five catches for 45 yards. Cameron kept two drives alive and finished with his first five receptions of the season.
What they said about the 9-yard touchdown reception by Stevie Johnson that all but cemented the Buffalo victory:
- Browns CB Dimitri Patterson -- “We were in man coverage. He ran an isolation route. I gave him too much space. You can't give receivers too much space to improvise. My hat's off to him. I definitely needed to make that play.”
- Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick -- “It was one hundred percent Stevie. … That's why Stevie makes the big bucks. We count on him to do things like that in a game and to beat the guy like he did. That special.
- Stevie Johnson -- "I saw that it was man coverage with nobody in the back, so it was one-on-one and I made a move on him. ... It's just a shake, just get open. [Fitzgerald] said in the huddle if it's cover one or zero, get open. That's basically what the coverage was, and I had to make a move on the guy and get open."
What they said about the late hit by Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson that allowed Bills to keep the ball late in the second quarter:
- Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson -- “I talked to the ref about that. From my angle, I couldn't tell if the receiver had stepped out of bounds or not.”
Numbers you should know: Browns wide receivers combined to catch a total of nine passes from QB Brandon Weeden. None had more than three. … The Browns were 3 of 11 in third down efficiency to just 4 of 14 for the Bills. … The Browns averaged just 4.4 yards on pass plays. … The Bills outgained the Browns on the ground, 138-33.
Buried from the beginning: Considering how poorly the Browns offense started, it was amazing they were in the game at all. They went three-and-out on each of their first three possessions and managed zero first downs in the first quarter. By that time, they trailed 14-0. Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden lamented the terrible beginning of the game after it was over. “We started too slow,” he said. “After last week (the 27-point performance against Cincinnati), that's disappointing. We can't be [0 for 4] in third-down situations to start the game and expect to win. You put yourself into a 14-0 hole and it's pretty tough to dig out of it.”
Grinding TRich to a halt: Browns rookie RB Trent Richardson was coming off a 109-yard performance in Cincinnati. Bills coach Chan Gailey put an emphasis on containing Richardson as his team prepared for the Browns. “That was one of the things we talked about and made a big deal about this week was not letting him out of there, controlling him, making them throw the football,” Gailey said. “It worked kind of like we thought it would.”
Going forward: Browns -- If the Browns don't perform significantly better -- and soon -- they will be no doubt be 0-5. They have little time to prepare for an AFC North showdown at Baltimore on Thursday, and they must travel to New York to play the Super Bowl champion Giants. It appears quite likely that the Browns will go winless during the suspension of CB Joe Haden and their secondary is perhaps more to blame than any other unit. Bills -- Buffalo certainly needed a win against the lowly Browns with games against the powerful Patriots and 49ers upcoming. The Bills played well enough on Sunday defensively to bring optimism that they can at least slow down the high-powered New England offense. But it remains to be seen if the injury to Spiller and a lack of depth at receiver will prevent them from moving the ball consistently against San Francisco.
Stay dialed in on the Cleveland Browns on Twitter at @CBSBrowns throughout the season with on-site updates from CBSSports.com RapidReports correspondent Marty Gitlin.