September 1, 2014

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Back-to-back is back as Browns down Rams

ST. LOUIS — Resilient isn’t the sexiest adjective, but it’s the perfect one to describe the Browns. A team counted out before the season began, then again after an embarrassing opening day, showed its pluck once again Sunday. It shook off an early deficit and rallied to defeat the Rams 27-20 in the Edward Jones Dome.
Outsiders may see the tight victory over a winless team and shrug off the accomplishment. Those folks wouldn’t be welcome inside the Browns locker room.
The Browns (4-3) know they trailed 14-0 before the national anthem was over. They know how long it’d been since they won two straight (four years) or been above .500 this late in the season (2002). They know after four terrible years, success, however unexpected, is worth celebrating.
“How do you respond in the face of adversity? That’s what this whole team has been about this whole season,” receiver Braylon Edwards said of the 14-0 deficit. “The team that we want to be, they respond in that situation.
“It was a great win for us. It was a chance to fight adversity and prevail, and we did that.”
Examples of resilience were everywhere, as the Browns won for the first time on the road.
Derek Anderson, who began the year on the bench, won the first road game of his career. He was 18-for-25 for 248 yards, three touchdowns and a career-high 143.0 rating.  He’s gone 10 quarters without an interception and improved to 4-2 as a starter. When the Browns were in a hole early, he stayed calm and made big throw after big throw.
“Guys don’t get down, guys don’t give up,” he said. “You have to anticipate doing well. That’s how you do well: have confidence in yourself.”
Edwards, dismissed by many as a selfish bust last year, continued his stellar season. He tied a career high with eight catches, for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
“Every week he is getting better,” said running back Jamal Lewis, who picked up 61 yards. “I can’t see anybody stopping him.”
And when Edwards was penalized 15 yards for taking off his helmet in celebration after a catch and run — he claimed he thought the quarter was over, which would’ve made it OK — his teammates made sure he wouldn’t go down as the goat.
A run defense that has been terrible all year stopped the Rams twice on fourth-and-1. The first came in the second quarter, the other with 2:00 left in the game. On both possessions, backup running back Brian Leonard — Steven Jackson left in the first quarter with a back injury — was stopped for no gain on third and fourth downs.
“That’s one of the best things you can have happen on the football field,” Edwards said. “That says a lot about who they are, their fortitude, their will, their resolve. We won because of it.”
Sean Jones made the final stop, blitzing up the middle and hanging onto Leonard’s foot. Jones was criticized by coaches and media last week for his poor play this season.
“We came through when the team really needed us,” he said. “I played off my instincts. Like when I was kid, like back in the day.”
Cornerback Leigh Bodden ended the first half by whipping his helmet 30 yards down the team’s sideline in frustration. He gave up a 39-yard completion on the first play of the game, allowed a touchdown to make it 14-0, was called for two penalties and was part of a secondary that allowed Marc Bulger to throw for 310 yards.
But with 38 seconds left, Bodden dropped in his zone and grabbed the game-sealing interception.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I just don’t like to give up plays. But I’m happy I did do something at the end to help the team.”
A defense that allowed 17 points and 246 yards in the first half rebounded to hold the Rams to three points and 147 yards after halftime. The offense keeping the ball away from the Rams helped, but the defense made the stops when necessary.
“In years past, we were down by 14 and it was a long road back,” linebacker Andra Davis said. “Now our offense, we can do that in two plays with the weapons we have. They are doing a great job and carrying us right now. But we are a team and the defense made plays.”
The Browns return home Sunday to face the Seattle Seahawks. The Browns, tied with Baltimore a game back of the Steelers in the AFC North, will be going for their third win in a row. They haven’t done that since 2001.
“When you string wins together, the confidence of your team grows,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “Hopefully our confidence grows and takes us through the rest of the season.”
“We’re playing for something right now,” Bodden said. “We’re usually behind the 8-ball. But this is a chance for us to keep pushing and do something better than the Browns are used to.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.