CLEVELAND — Quarterback Brandon Weeden kept rolling, running back Trent Richardson got his first taste of the preseason, tight end Jordan Cameron flashed his vast potential and coach Rob Chudzinski improved to 2-0 in meaningless games.
But a series of serious injuries to key players overshadowed the Browns’ 24-6 victory over the Detroit Lions on Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the No. 6 pick, bruised a lung and was taken to the Cleveland Clinic, where he was to remain overnight.
Chudzinski said the stay was precautionary.
No. 2 running back Dion Lewis broke his left fibula after a catch in the third quarter and could miss the season.
Right guard Jason Pinkston sustained a high ankle sprain (X-rays were negative) and left the stadium on crutches, in a walking boot and looking disheartened.
Rookie kicker Brandon Bogotay (tight groin) and No. 2 tight end Gary Barnidge (sprained shoulder) also left for the locker room and didn’t return to the game.
Chudzinski will update the conditions of the injured and the possible replacement plans today.
The bruise, break and sprains cast a pall over the team’s second straight strong outing.
“It was a tough night from an injury perspective, obviously,” Chudzinski said. “But we made some strides and I was happy and pleased with the performance.
“That’s the game. Guys get injured and other guys get opportunities and have to step up. That’s what good teams are able to do.”
The injuries dampened but didn’t delete the fact that the Browns’ starters outplayed their counterparts for the second straight week. Weeden played into the second quarter and led three scoring drives that totaled 17 points. The starting defense forced three straight three-and-outs to open the game and allowed only a field goal.
“They’re very unfortunate, we just gotta get those guys back as soon as we can and the guys that are right behind them have to step up and continue and we can’t miss a beat,” Weeden said of the injuries.
Weeden backed up his strong opening effort, even after Chudzinski turned up the heat during the week when he called the quarterback competition “still close.” Weeden wasn’t fazed and overcame a shaky start to go 8-for-12 for 117 yards, two touchdowns to Cameron and a 137.8 rating.
“Competition sells newspapers, I understand that,” said Weeden who connected with receiver Josh Gordon on a 34-yard go route down the sideline. “I realize I can’t control any of it. All I can control is going out and playing well, try to play mistake-free football.
“I’m worried about playing well. The rest of the pieces will fall in place.”
Weeden is 18-for-25 for 229 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks and a staggering 139.8 rating in two games and six drives. The first-team offense has scored 27 points.
“He was efficient out there, accurate and had a couple of really nice throws where he was able to get into some tight areas,” Chudzinski said. “He looked comfortable out there.”
Weeden was helped by the season debut of Richardson, who missed all of the 2012 preseason. Richardson played two series, rushing six times for 33 yards (5.5 average) and a long of 17. He caught a pass for no yards.
“It was good to get him out here,” Chudzinski said. “He took a couple hits and delivered a couple as well. Just to get some nice game action will help him down the road.”
Richardson took a big shot from Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh near the sideline after one run. He got up no worse for the wear after fighting a sore shin earlier in camp.
“I feel real good, especially being out there with my team,” Richardson said. “The offense, defense and special teams, everybody is out there doing big things.
“I’m happy to be out here in front of Cleveland Nation and Browns Nation.”
Cameron joins Weeden, Richardson and receivers Gordon, Greg Little and Travis Benjamin as young playmakers that are being counted on to take big steps this season.
The Browns didn’t draft a tight end, because they wanted to see if Cameron could develop into the down-the-field and red zone threat they desire. He looked the part against the Lions.
Cameron had three catches for 42 yards, including a long of 27. His touchdowns came on 10- and 5-yard passes. He had to leap for the 10-yarder down the seam and was able to land inside the end line.
“He had a heckuva night,” Weeden said. “He had some great catches down there, some tough catches and I know he has that in him. He has a ton of ability.
“I’m excited to see him play as well as he did tonight and hopefully we keep that rolling. He’s going to be a huge asset for this offense.”
The next couple of days will be about the injuries — their severity and who will fill any voids that need to be filled.
Pinkston, who had replaced Shawn Lauvao (ankle surgery), was left pounding the ground less than a year after blood clots ended his season and threatened his life. Rookie Garrett Gilkey, a seventh-round pick from Division II Chadron State, filled in. He had never played right guard in a game.
Left guard John Greco blamed himself, because he was pushed back into Pinkston by Lions tackle Nick Fairley.
Chudzinski didn’t know how Mingo was hurt, but his action against the Lions came on special teams.
Lewis (5-foot-8, 195 pounds) ran five times for 33 yards and caught a team-high four passes for 15 yards. He had become the No. 2 back after Montario Hardesty missed much of camp with a hamstring injury then had arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday.
Brandon Jackson and fullback/tailback Chris Ogbonnaya are next in line behind Richardson.
Bogotay was supposed to do all the kicking against Detroit, a chance for him to win or lose the job. But the groin injury sidelined him, and veteran Shayne Graham kicked the extra point after Jackson’s 14-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter.
The most entertaining moment of the second half was a fan who ran onto the field and dropped his boxer-briefs. He was knocked down twice by Lions running back Joique Bell but got up and ran all the way to the other end of the field before being subdued by police.