Joe Judge: "I think our entire roster got better this week."— Dan Salomone (@Dan_Salomone) August 22, 2021
Despite the absence of several notable starters, the Browns' 17-13 preseason win over the Giants was not devoid of some drama. In fact, the game came down to a Hail Mary, as Brian Lewerke's heave to David Sills was picked off by Browns defensive back Richard LeCounte in the end zone.
Wearing all-white uniforms to combat the heat and humidity, the Browns quickly marched 81 yards in 10 plays on the game's opening drive. Browns quarterback Case Keenum, after misfiring on a second down throw to Rashard Higgins in the end zone, hit his fourth-down pass to KhaDarel Hodge for a touchdown on what looked like the exact same play. The drive also included 46 rushing yards, 34 of those coming from running back D'Ernest Johnson.
The Giants responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by Devontae Booker's 1-yard scoring plunge. The drive's biggest play was a 24-yard completion from Mike Glennon to tight end Rysen John three plays before Booker's score. Cleveland's second drive (and first of the second quarter) ended when Keenum was picked off by cornerback Quincy Wilson in the end zone. Both teams came up empty on their final two drives of the half.
The Browns broke the tie five minutes into the second half, as running back John Kelly raced five yards to pay-dirt. Completions of 14 and 19 yards from the Browns' Kyle Lauletta (who came into the game near the end of the first half) to fullback Johnny Stanton set up the only score of the third quarter for both teams.
After five consecutive punts by the Giants' offense, Lewerke hit Sills for an 8-yard score on a third-down play in the final quarter. The Giants were unable to take the lead, however, as running back Gary Brightwell was stuffed by a host of Cleveland defenders on New York's two-point try. Cleveland responded with a 49-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin. The field goal capped off a 44-yard drive, with Kelly accounting for each of those yards. The touchdown served as the game's final score after the Browns kept the Giants out of the end zone in the game's final moments.
Here's a closer look at what transpired in Cleveland.
Why the Browns won
The home team never trailed while piling up 24 first downs. Cleveland's offense flexed its muscles on the offensive line, totaling 163 yards on 25 carries. The Browns received a solid outing from Kelly, who led the team in rushing with 58 yards on just nine carries. He also had an impressive 21-yard catch-and-carry that set up the game's final score. Cleveland's defense held New York to just 3-of-9 on third down during the game's first three quarters.
Why the Giants lost
New York's offense went into a dry spell after tying the score in the first quarter. The unit had five consecutive drives end with a punt before finally putting together an 8-play, 72-yard drive that ended with Sills' touchdown reception. The Giants waited too long before leaning on their running game, which finished the day with 120 yards on 25 carries. Conversely, the Giants had no answer for Kelly and Johnson, who combined to run for 86 yards on 13 carries.
The Giants appeared to have momentum following Wilson's pick. The Browns' defense quickly snuffed out that momentum, however, forcing a quick three-and-out. Cleveland would force five more punts while its offense put together two scoring drives. The Browns' defense was led by linebacker Elijah Lee, who recorded a game-high nine tackles. Defensive tackle Malik McDowell had five tackles while also recording one of the team's two sacks.
Play of the game
After giving up a touchdown, the Browns defense thwarted the Giants' attempt the take the lead on a two-point conversion. Brightwell was stonewalled by several Cleveland defenders, as the Browns' defense came up with their first of two critical fourth quarter stops.
The Browns will close out the preseason with a road game against Atlanta next Sunday, then open the regular season at the Chiefs on Sept. 12. The Giants will conclude their 2021 preseason with a home game against the Patriots next Sunday. New York then opens the regular season with a home game against the Broncos on Sept. 12.
Check our live blog below for updates, highlights and analysis from Sunday's game.