|Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw had a career-high 200 yards rushing to help New York overcome an early deficit and defeat the Cleveland Browns. (US Presswire)|
It turns out coach Tom Coughlin and the Giants were right: The Cleveland Browns are not a team to be taken lightly.
Throughout the week leading up to their 41-27 win on Sunday, the Giants insisted that the Browns were a dangerous team -- one that could pull an upset if the New York Giants were looking ahead to the Week 6 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers.
The Browns (0-5) proved Coughlin right. They scored the first 14 points, thanks in part to an early fumble by running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Ultimately, he and the Giants (3-2) bounced back in a memorable way.
The veteran running back finished with a career-high 200 rushing yards and one touchdown, and wide receiver Victor Cruz added a career-high three touchdowns of his own.
Most important, a handful of big performances from backups like safety Stevie Brown, who had an interception and a fumble recovery, helped the Giants overcome the absences of safety Kenny Phillips, wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden, defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, right tackle David Diehl and weakside linebacker Keith Rivers.
“A lot of the young men who had a chance to play under these circumstances with some people injured did well," Coughlin said. "Stevie Brown (is) a good example. [He] gave up a big play [a 62-yard TD pass from Browns QB Brandon Weeden to WR Josh Gordon in the first quarter] and came back and got a pick, picked up a fumble, put us in good field position. And we're starving for that kind of stuff."
The Browns, meanwhile, were their own worst enemies once again, accumulating 10 penalties for a total of 91 yards. Weeden finished with two interceptions, the second of which came in the red zone and effectively ended any chance Cleveland had at getting back into the game.
Coach Pat Shurmur’s secondary was inconsistent at best and wide receiver Greg Little was targeted just twice and didn’t make a catch. Outside of running back Trent Richards (17 carries for 81 yards, one touchdown) and wide receiver Jordan Norwood, the Browns offensive effort was disappointing, to say the least.
When the game turned: In an early 14-0 hole, quarterback Eli Manning finally discovered rookie Rueben Randle, who had just one career catch coming into the game and was being saddled with questions about his work ethic throughout the week. The second-round pick responded by making four catches for 42 yards and drawing a 13-yard pass interference penalty on the Giants’ third drive. Bradshaw added 33 rushing yards on five carries and the drive ended with a three-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Cruz.
The Giants had significant injuries at wide receiver on Sunday, so Randle’s emergence was exactly what New York needed.
- Weeden’s decision was made easy in the first quarter when he discovered wide receiver Josh Gordon was being defended by safety Antrel Rolle and linebacker Chase Blackburn. The 62-yard touchdown pass is the longest of his young professional career, and it gave Cleveland an early 14-0 lead, just five minutes into Sunday’s game.
- Cleveland seemed destined to add another touchdown, potentially extending the lead to 24-10, when pressure from Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn forced Weeden to make a bad throw, which was picked off by Brown and returned to the 40-yard line.
- Brown wasn’t done after the pick, though. After the Giants scored on their next drive, safety Will Hill caused Browns kick returner Josh Cribbs to fumble on the ensuing kickoff, and Brown was able to return it to the Browns' 29.
- The 48-yard third-quarter pass from Manning landed perfectly in Cruz’s hands, but Cleveland cornerback Sheldon Brown was able to knock the ball into the grasp of safety Usama Young. The interception return gave Cleveland the ball on the Giants’ 27-yard line and put the Browns in a position to close the lead.
- After having a touchdown nullified for attempting two forward passes on the same play, Weeden was picked off from the five-yard line by Blackburn with 9:10 remaining in the game. The turnover effectively sealed Cleveland’s fate.
- First-round pick David Wilson wasn’t having much success as a kick returner, but after Bradshaw came out of the game in the fourth, the 2011 ACC Player of the Year earned his first NFL touchdown with a 40-yard run midway through the fourth quarter. Wilson squeezed his small frame in between blockers right guard Chris Snee and fullback Henry Hynoski, and by the time he crossed the line of scrimmage it was obvious that not one of the Browns defenders had a chance of making play.
- Norwood caught all nine of the passes that Weeden sent his way, finishing with 81 yards. It’s a shame for the Browns that the rest of the offense couldn’t match his consistency because Cleveland definitely had a chance to win on Sunday.
- Bradshaw’s day began with a lost fumble but ended with a career-best 200 rushing yards and one touchdown. Bradshaw more than doubled his total rushing yards for the season in just one game.
- Cruz only had five catches, but when three of them account for 18 points, it’s easy to say he had a good game. The Browns rotated different corners onto Cruz, but only Brown seemed to have any success.
- Brown had a fumble recovery on special teams and an interception, which was his second of the season.
- Blackburn intercepted a pass, pressured Weeden into another pick and four tackles and a pass defended.
What they said about Brandon Weeden’s first interception of the game:
Weeden: “We were trying to get off the line quick, and get a quick shot to the flat, and they covered it well. I was just trying to make a play; it was stupid. I should’ve airmailed it; let Phil [Dawson] kick a field goal.”
What they said about David Wilson’s first NFL touchdown:
Right guard Chris Snee: “I could literally hear him as he went by. He sounded pretty fast.”
Wilson, when asked if he saved the ball: “Ahmad came and got [the ball] for me. I was looking for it. He had it in his hands. He was looking out for me.”
What they said about Ahmad Bradshaw:
Coughlin: “He’s as physically tough and as competitive as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Coughlin said.
Bradshaw: “I love this game more than anybody. I put all my heart into it and I just feel I’m one of the toughest out there on the field when I’m out there.”
Numbers you should know:
The win gives Tom Coughlin 77 regular-season wins with the Giants, which ties Bill Parcells for second on the all-time franchise win list. Steve Owen’s 151 wins still rank supreme.
The Giants out-possessed the Browns in all four quarters, finishing with a 35:24-24:36 advantage. New York lost the possession battle to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4, so this was a major objective against Cleveland.
Injury update: Giants running back and specialist Andre Brown left the game after suffering a concussion on a first-quarter kick return. He later tweeted that “Everything is ok.”
Snee played with a partially torn hip labrum, but said he didn’t come out of the game any worse than he went in.
For the Browns, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson left with a concussion. Cornerback Dmitri Patterson went down with an ankle injury and he was later seen leaving the locker room on crutches. Ahtyba Rubin left MetLife stadium in a walking boot. All players will be evaluated on Monday.
Going forward: Things don’t get any easier for the 3-2 Giants. Next week they travel to San Francisco, where they were 1-1 against the 49ers last season. The following week they host the Washington Redskins, who won at MetLife Stadium in 2011.
The 0-5 Browns keep inching closer to their first win and could conceivably get it in next week’s rematch with the Cincinnati Bengals. If it doesn’t happen then, Pat Shurmur’s crew has a chance to win in Week 7 when they travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts.