CLEVELAND – The Browns showed their resilience yet again with an inspired second quarter that gave them a 17-10 lead over the Bills at halftime.
Playing without starting quarterback Brian Hoyer, who’s out with a right knee injury, the Browns (2-2) scored 17 straight points to recover from an early 10-0 deficit.
Punt returner Travis Benjamin sparked the comeback, then threw gasoline on it.
He returned a punt 57 yards near the end of the first quarter to set up a 30-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.
Willis McGahee’s 1-yard touchdown run tied the game at 10 with 3:52 left in the half. The Browns defense forced a three-and-out, and Benjamin went to work again. He went 79 yards for a touchdown with the punt return.
He ran from right to left, split a seam and sprinted down the left sideline. He cut inside to avoid punter Shawn Powell — who knocked Benjamin out of bounds on the first long return – spun out of a tackle by linebacker Nigel Bradham, cut inside again and ran into the end zone.
Benjamin’s 142 yards on punt returns already ranks second in team history, trailing Eric Metcalf’s 166 against Pittsburgh.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden, who replaced Hoyer, found a bit of a rhythm. He completed three of four passes for 43 yards during a stretch, with completions to tight end Jordan Cameron and receivers Greg Little and Josh Gordon on the 14-play touchdown drive.
The Browns turned to the run when they reached the 12-yard line and eventually scored after six McGahee carries and two Bills penalties.
** Fullback and third-down back Chris Ogbonnaya was taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a head injury. His return was announced as questionable, but he hadn’t returned to the field.
In his absence, McGahee was the primary tailback and rookie tight end MarQueis Gray the fullback.
** Bills rookie coach Doug Marrone was charged a timeout for attempting to challenge a play that couldn’t be reviewed by replay.
** The Browns used two timeouts on the touchdown drive when they couldn’t get the personnel or play call correct.
** Defensive end Desmond Bryant hit Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel in the gut on third-and-3, forcing the punt that Benjamin returned for a score.
The Browns’ first home prime-time game since 2009 couldn’t have started any worse.
Buffalo took a 7-0 lead less than two minutes in, then hometown quarterback Brian Hoyer suffered a knee injury on Cleveland’s second drive and was forced to leave the game. The team announced his return as questionable.
The Bills added a 52-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter and led 10-0 after the first quarter.
Hoyer scrambled 11 yards for a first down and tried to slide. He was hit by rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso, and Hoyer’s right leg appeared to hyperextend while his left leg got caught underneath him.
He was in obvious pain and stayed on the ground for a bit. He was helped to a training table by medical staff, examined, then walked into the locker room on his own.
He was replaced by Brandon Weeden, who opened the season as the starter but missed the last two games with a sprained right thumb. His first incompletion was greeted with boos by the crowd.
Hoyer, a North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius graduate, entered the game 2-0 as a starter.
** A 57-yard punt return by Travis Benjamin gave the Browns a scoring opportunity to end the quarter.
** Greg Little took the opening kickoff from about 6 yards deep and was stopped at the 8-yard line. He was stopped at the 10 on his second return from deep and replaced by Bobby Rainey.
** Receiver Josh Gordon dropped what would’ve been a big gainer on the second play of the game on a skinny post.
** The Bills’ touchdown was set up by a 25-yard punt return. Then cornerback Joe Haden was penalized for pass interference in the end zone on a throw from receiver T.J. Graham off an end-around.
Haden was beat on the trickery and grabbed Stevie Johnson when the pass was underthrown and he caught up in the end zone.
Fred Jackson’s 1-yard run made it 7-0 104 seconds into the game.