CLEVELAND — The Browns’ fourth-ranked defense had Calvin Johnson under control and for the first half contained Reggie Bush.
The second half was a whole different story.
Johnson hauled in just three catches on eight targets for 25 yards, but running back Reggie Bush did more than enough to pick up the slack. The versatile running back put together 135 total yards on 22 touches and came up with a big play every time Detroit needed him to during its 31-17 win at First Energy Stadium.
“Reggie Bush has really good hands and runs really good routes,” Browns cornerback Buster Skrine said. “A lot of times they match him up on a linebacker. Our linebackers are good coverage people, don’t get me wrong, but he just made a lot of plays when he was out in the open.”
Bush caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford to start the Lions’ comeback bid. Detroit scored 24 unanswered points — 17 in the fourth quarter — after trailing the Browns 17-7 at halftime.
“We struggled, we struggled to run the ball and I think that kind of hurt us a little bit,” Bush said of the Lions’ first-half rushing effort that amounted to just 26 yards on 11 attempts. “They did a good job of stopping the run in the first half, stacking the box on us so that kind of limited us a little bit. I think in the second half once we started to open up a little bit you saw us starting to put some drives together.”
The Browns could not get off the field on third down, allowing the Lions to convert eight of 14 third-down attempts. Cleveland also had a problem tackling.
The two issues converged on one play.
Detroit faced a third-and-7 from the Cleveland 35, which Stafford converted with a 12-yard pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Browns inside linebacker Craig Robertson had a shot at Pettigrew, but couldn’t wrap him up.
On the next play, Stafford found Joseph Fauria for his second touchdown on a 23-yard pass to give Detroit a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“I felt like I was in good coverage, the guy made a good catch,” Robertson said of his coverage on Fauria, who had four catches for 32 yards and a touchdown in Detroit’s first five games. He finished with three catches — all for touchdowns — and 34 yards Sunday.
Faced with a must-stop situation on third-and-3 on its 31-yard line, the Browns came through and forced a Stafford incompletion. However, outside linebacker Quentin Groves was flagged for roughing the passer, preserving the Detroit drive that ended with Fauria’s final touchdown — a 10-yard catch.
“If you look at it, if we make our tackles we’re off the field on third down,” Groves said. “Give or take a couple plays here or there the game could have been totally different, but it’s those one or two plays that win or lose you ballgames.”
Groves said the referee told him he made a legal hit on Stafford. When he asked for an explanation, the referee said he thought he saw him spear the QB.
“You never know when they’re going to call that,” outside linebacker Paul Kruger said. “It’s tough because you know it can be called. If there is a clinic on how to tackle, he literally did exactly that. His face was up, just wrapped him up and took him down. I don’t know what else you can do.”
Despite falling to .500, the Browns defense is not going to let one game define the rest of its season.
“It’s just back to the drawing board,” inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “It’s one loss. We’ve had a good few weeks here. We had a 17-7 lead at half, it was all us. I think we’re a much better team than we showed today. We’ve just got to be ready to finish the game.”