April 19, 2014

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Browns notes: Rookie Travis Benjamin wows with punt return

CLEVELAND — The fastest player on the Browns now owns the longest punt return in franchise history.

Benjamin

Rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown Sunday as Cleveland rolled to a 30-7 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Eric Metcalf held the previous Browns record with a 92-yard TD return at Cincinnati on Sept. 4, 1994.

“When I made the first guy whiff trying to tackle me, I knew I was scot-free because all I saw were brown jerseys ahead,” Benjamin said. “It was a great momentum swing for us and a great feeling to make that kind of play for my team.”

The fourth-round pick from Miami (Fla.) also gained 15 yards on a double-reverse in the third quarter, but his second-period runback was the talk of Cleveland’s locker room following the game.

Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor had punt returner Joshua Cribbs switch spots with Benjamin just before Kansas City snapped the ball, employing the Banzai formation.

Cribbs sprinted to a spot on the line, where he made a hard rush at Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, while Benjamin backtracked into a returner role. The entire sequence couldn’t have turned out any better, even though it was designed to be a punt-block play.

“We’ve been practicing that for a couple of weeks, but we didn’t know when or if we would use it,” said Cribbs, who gained 51 yards on three punt returns. “Since Kansas City runs a man (-to-man) scheme in punt coverage, this was the right time.

“(Colquitt) shanked the ball a little bit, so the block part kind of worked anyways, and Travis made a great play on the runback. My hat goes off to him.”

Benjamin became the first Cleveland rookie to return a punt for a TD since Ben Davis in 1967. He and Cribbs also combined for 143 yards on four runbacks, the second-highest total in Browns history (166 yards against Pittsburgh on Oct. 24, 1993).

Additionally, the duo shattered Cleveland’s season record for punt return yardage with 573 — and have three more games to add to it. Cribbs has gained 424 yards on 33 returns, while Benjamin has 149 on three runbacks.

“It’s a very dangerous duo, knowing that Cribbs and I are back there,” Benjamin said. “Today, we knew that (the Chiefs’) special teams and coaches that had been here were scared of Cribbs. Teams are going to try and kick away from him, so I know I have to build the momentum and build my name.”

Kiss and make up

Browns coach Pat Shurmur said he was “so upset with myself” for benching running back Montario Hardesty after he fumbled at the Kansas City 1-yard line in the fourth quarter.

Though Hardesty recovered the ball, Shurmur replaced him with Trent Richardson, who promptly scored a touchdown on second-and-goal. After being yanked, an incensed Hardesty engaged in a screaming match with his coach.

“I’m (ticked) at myself for doing that, but it just happened,” an obviously remorseful Shurmur said. “Montario, as you could see, earned the right to carry the football. He did a good job for us and I trust him in every situation. He’s done an outstanding job this whole year, and I wanted to get that out there.”

Hardesty, who led Cleveland with 52 rushing yards on 10 carries, also said there were no hard feelings.

“Things like that happen sometimes on the sideline, but it’s all good between us,” Hardesty said. “I just wanted to get a touchdown for this team, that’s all. Coach and me are fine now.”

Brownie bits

  • Richardson scored two rushing touchdowns, tying Jim Brown’s team rookie record of nine in a season. The third overall draft pick has 10 total scores, equaling the Cleveland rookie mark shared by Brown (1957) and Eric Metcalf (1989).
  • Rookie Josh Gordon had a career-high eight receptions for 86 yards, while fellow wideout Greg Little gained 86 yards from scrimmage.
  • Cornerback Dimitri Patterson replaced Buster Skrine in the nickel defense, though Skrine did spell Sheldon Brown late in the game. Rookie safety Tashaun Gipson recorded his first interception on a pass that was deflected by Brown.
  • Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles’ 80-yard touchdown run on the first snap of the game was the longest offensive play allowed by Cleveland in 2012.

Injury update

  • The Browns’ inactives were safety Eric Hagg, cornerback Trevin Wade, running back Brandon Jackson, fullback Owen Marecic, guard Jarrod Shaw, wide receiver Josh Cooper and defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron. All seven were healthy scratches. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor tweaked an ankle and linebacker James-Michael Johnson sustained a bruised thigh, but both quickly returned to the field.
  • Not in uniform for the Chiefs were safeties Abram Elam (quadriceps) and Kendrick Lewis (shoulder), wide receivers Steve Breaston and Devon Wylie, running back Nate Eachus and quarterback Ricky Stanzi, and defensive tackle Jerrell Powe.
    Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who made two catches for a team-high 70 yards, suffered a rib injury in the first quarter and did not return.

Growing buzz

The Boston Globe, citing two NFL sources, reported “there is indeed fire behind that smoke” of Mike Lombardi possibly taking over as the Browns’ general manager.

Cleveland CEO Joe Banner worked with Lombardi in Philadelphia from 1997-1998 and could hire him, along with University of Alabama coach Nick Saban, according to the story.

The newspaper also claimed that University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are on the Browns’ short list of potential replacements for Shurmur.

Team owner Jimmy Haslam III and Banner have repeatedly said they will not make any personnel decisions until after this season.

Extra points

  • The crowd of 62,422 was the smallest in Cleveland Browns Stadium history — and the lowest attendance at a Browns home game since Dec. 17, 1995.
  • The Browns are 11-10-2 all time against Kansas City, including an 8-3-1 mark in Cleveland.

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.