With the team’s offense mostly sputtering, the defense was forced to carry the load. The Dolphins possessed the ball for nearly 38 minutes and in taking a 16-10 lead with 3:23 left, had run 24 more plays than the Browns.
But the defense — led by its youthful, energetic defensive line — kept Cleveland in the game long enough for Colt McCoy to overcome a poor performance to lead the team to a 17-16 victory.
The line, which averages just a shade over 24 years of age, registered four sacks and three other tackles for loss while disrupting Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne’s rhythm after a hot start.
Fatigue? What fatigue?
“We’re well-conditioned athletes, man,” said a chuckling Jayme Mitchell, the elder statesman of the unit at 27 and once a forgotten man under former coach Eric Mangini. “When it gets late in the game and we’ve been out there, our competitive nature takes over. We just keep going.”
They had to keep going one more time after McCoy’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Massaquoi with 43 seconds left. Massaquoi and Ben Watson were penalized for excessive celebration on the play — the fan who jumped out of the Dawg Pound to join in also was quickly penalized by law enforcement — and the Browns kicked off at the 20.
Clyde Gates returned the kick to the 38, and a horse-collar tackle by Dimitri Patterson pushed the Dolphins to the Cleveland 47. But the line pressured Henne on four straight passes, and the final one was intercepted by Mike Adams to seal the victory.
“We got pressure on Henne and I thought (the line) did a nice job,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “As the game went on, we felt like we needed to pressure them and we did that. I thought our guys did a good job of disguising some things, which makes it tough on the quarterback.
“The defense did a tremendous job of battling play to play. At the end there, to shut them down at the end with only a field goal needed to win it, that’s great stuff.”
The Browns entered the game second in the NFL in passing yardage allowed at 166, but Henne started quickly, going 15-of-19 in the first half for 191 yards and a touchdown as Miami led 10-7 at the half. But the line stiffened when it had to and helped limit Miami to just 135 yards of offense in the second half. Henne completed four passes over the final 30 minutes.
The line quartet — ends Mitchell and second-round pick Jabaal Sheard and tackles Ahtyba Rubin and first-rounder Phil Taylor — atoned for a couple mistakes that led to two Dan Carpenter field goals at crucial times.
On the Dolphins’ first drive of the third quarter, the Browns had Miami backed up to its own goal line after Rubin and D’Qwell Jackson sacked Henne. And led by Sheard, the Browns nearly sacked Henne in the end zone on third down.
Sheard, though, grabbed Henne’s face mask, giving Miami a first down on a drive that eventually lasted more than eight minutes and gave the Dolphins a 13-10 lead late in the third.
Later, a personal foul penalty for a hit by Taylor — who sprained an MCL early in the game, according to Shurmur, but missed little time — as Henne slid led to another Carpenter field goal and Miami’s 16-10 late edge.
“It looked like he wasn’t going to slide at first, but they only got three points out of it,” Taylor said of the play. “We have to play every snap. If we’re out there a lot, we have to do something about it, make a play to get off the field.”
The Browns now have 11 sacks — 6½ by the line — after recording 29 last season, and Mitchell said he and his linemates are working together well.
That notion was backed by the rest of the defense, as well. Safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Joe Haden — who had the unenviable task of flanking Brandon Marshall — said the line’s effort was critical.
“The (defensive) line was putting pressure on (Henne), sacking him and hitting him the whole game,” said Haden, who limited Marshall to four catches and 43 yards.
Said Ward: “They’ve played great all year. They make it easy for us.”
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.