October 25, 2014

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Win points Browns in right direction heading into bye

CLEVELAND — If the Browns ever figure out a way to stop the opposition, they could be unstoppable.
As it is — with a defense ranked near the bottom of the league — the Browns are a stunning 3-3 following a
41-31 win Sunday over the Miami Dolphins
(0-6).
The Browns, who are off next week before heading to winless St. Louis on Oct. 28, have won three straight at home for the first time since 2004.
Coach Romeo Crennel is closer to a contract extension than the unemployment line.
Derek Anderson looks like this year’s Tony Romo.
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski may be the genius Kellen Winslow has claimed all along.
None of this seemed possible just six weeks ago after an embarrassing home-opening loss to the Steelers.
“We have ourselves in a position that we might be able to get something done if we can continue to improve,” Crennel said.
“We’re in the hunt, right there with everybody else,” Winslow said. “We have to keep pushing.”
The Browns were supposed to handle Miami, which was playing without injured quarterback Trent Green. In the past, that often meant greater disappointment for the Dawg Pound.
But the Browns took a 24-3 lead in the second quarter, then scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to cement the win after the Dolphins had scored touchdowns on three straight possessions in the second and third quarters.
“We just had to pick up the defense,” said Winslow, who had five catches for 90 yards, including a 33-yarder past big-mouthed Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter. “We needed some big plays out there and we executed them.”
The Browns have averaged 32 points since Anderson took over the starting duties from Charlie Frye in Week 2. They scored five touchdowns Sunday, despite being without starting running back Jamal Lewis (foot). Braylon Edwards caught three touchdowns on a variety of patterns, backup running backs Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison combined for 170 yards and Anderson played his best game yet.
He went 18-for-25 for 245 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a career-best 142.5 rating. He showed wisdom by throwing away a couple of balls, and even flashed some quickness on a 1-yard bootleg touchdown and an 8-yard scramble up the middle on third down that kept alive a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Not bad for a guy who began the season on the bench.
“He did a nice job of managing the game,” Crennel said. “Not trying to force things is a sign of maturity, a sign of good decision-making. He needs to continue that.”
“We’ve always been confident in Derek,” Wright said. “He has big-time physical ability and is just a natural leader. Nobody’s surprised.”
The game could’ve been over at halftime, but the defense couldn’t stop Miami running back Ronnie Brown (101 yards, 5.3 average) on third-and-short or get enough consistent pressure to rattle quarterback Cleo Lemon. In his second pro start, he went 24-for-43 for 256 yards, two passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns, two interceptions and a 69.5 rating.
The Cleveland defense allowed its sixth 100-yard rusher in six games and has given up at least 26 points in all but one game. The offense made it all a footnote, but the defensive problems remain the primary project for the bye week.
“We knew the offense was capable,” said cornerback Leigh Bodden, who had a second-quarter interception that set up a touchdown. “It brings confidence to the whole team, especially the defense, when the offense goes out and scores like that.”
Wright was steady with 20 carries for 59 yards and three catches for 29, while Harrison was dynamic in his first action of the year. He ran eight times for 57 yards (7.1 average) and caught one pass for 15. He picked up 43 yards on four straight touches to set up Anderson’s keeper that gave the Browns a 14-3 lead with nine seconds left in the first quarter.
“That’s a testament to the offensive line, that’s what it is,” Wright said. The line also allowed just one sack for 1 yard. “The guys upfront just do an amazing job of blowing those guys off the ball, getting push, creating seams.”
The complementary use of the backup backs was just one of the areas in which Chudzinski excelled. He exploited matchups with Edwards (five catches, 67 yards) and Winslow and showed aggressiveness in a field-goal drive before halftime, then again late in the third quarter after Miami had cut the lead to three.
“Coach Chudzinski’s extremely confident in what we’re capable of as an offense and that’s contagious and trickles down to the players,” Wright said. “Every time we go out there, we expect to score.”
As the wins begin to accumulate, the expectations begin to build.
“It’s important for us to come out in the second half of the season and put a good run together,” center Hank Fraley said. “I think we’re confident in each other that we can do this. We know it’s got to be one game at a time and we can’t look all the way to when the playoffs start.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.