CLEVELAND — Even when he’s not racking up rushing yards and plowing his way through the line and into the end zone, running back Peyton Hillis finds a way to impress his coaches, his teammates and his fans.
Hillis saw his streak of 100-yard rushing games and rushing touchdowns come to an end during the Browns’ 20-10 loss to the Falcons on Sunday. He was attempting to rush for 100 yards in his third straight game, and trying to become the first Browns player to score a rushing touchdown in five straight games since Greg Pruitt in 1975.
But Hillis, who pulled his quadriceps during Thursday’s practice, battled through the pain in what Browns coach Eric Mangini labeled “a pretty gutsy effort” to finish with 28 yards on 10 carries and 49 yards on four receptions — one a beautiful one-handed grab that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown.
“He made a great catch and that’s one thing that Peyton does, catches the ball well out of the backfield,” Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace said. “He made a better catch than I made a throw.”
Hillis, in the true blue-collar fashion that has made him beloved during his five games in Cleveland, said sitting on the sideline wasn’t an option. “I went out there and knew I wasn’t 100 percent, but I knew that my teammates needed me,” he said. “I tried to stay out there for them. You have to try and endure the pain when you’re out there.”
Hillis had to leave the field multiple times during the game, and rode a stationary bike on the sideline in an attempt to stay loose.
“I came out and I tried to warm it up, hoping it would loosen up a little to where I could play and wouldn’t feel it,” he said. “But that wasn’t the case.”
Getting’ his kick
Browns kicker Phil Dawson pulled into a tie with Lou Groza for the team lead in career field goals (234) when he made his only attempt, with a 19-yarder in the third quarter.
“It’s kind of surreal at this point,” Dawson said. “I tried all week to anticipate what that moment would be like. I have a lot of mixed emotions. I would trade it for a win.”
Dawson, who is tied with Groza for 35th all time in the NFL, said he would “uncharacteristically” take some time Sunday night to reflect on the record and let it soak in.
“It would be doing Mr. Groza a disservice to just blow it off,” he said. “He’s a Hall of Famer, he’s in the Ring of Honor and he’s a legend, especially in Ohio. He grew up in Berea and was an Ohio State Buckeye, so out of respect for him, this is a tremendous honor.”
Joe Haden and T.J. Ward are rookies and secondary mates — Haden a cornerback and Ward a hard-hitting safety. They’re also becoming two of the team’s top special teams players.
The pair are tied for third on the team in special teams tackles and each had a spectacular special teams play against the Falcons. Haden made a tip of the ball while diving into the end zone to place a Browns punt on the Atlanta 1-yard line, and Ward squeezed between two defenders to block Matt Bryant’s 30-yard field-goal attempt late in the second quarter.
“I got most of my hand on it,” Ward said. “It was just the standard block play we always call, but I was able to slide in there and make the play. There’s going to be times where other guys get through and make a play, too.”
After three games in which No. 1 wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi had few balls thrown his way, the second-year player hauled in five catches for 55 yards against the Falcons.
“I definitely want to go out there and make plays every time I get a chance to,” Massaquoi said. “It just so happened today that I was open and was able to get a couple more catches.”
Massaquoi almost picked up a sixth catch, which would have been good for a 24-yard touchdown, but he was unable to get his second foot down.
- The Browns had several players banged up in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons, but other than Seneca Wallace’s ankle injury, nobody else was forced out of the game.
- Blake Costanzo had the wind knocked out of him during a third-quarter kickoff, Sheldon Brown stayed down after a hard hit on Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez in the third, Hillis hobbled around the field most of the game, Robaire Smith aggravated a lingering back injury and Evan Moore dinged his leg.
- The Browns inactives for the game were wide receiver Carlton Mitchell, running back James Davis, offensive linemen Shawn Lauvao and John St. Clair, defensive linemen Derreck Robinson and Jayme Mitchell and tight end Alex Smith. Tony Pashos started at right tackle for St. Clair, and Wallace replaced Jake Delhomme as the starting quarterback.
- The Falcons inactives for the game were wide receiver Michael Jenkins, cornerback Dominique Franks, running back Gartrell Johnson III, tackle Garrett Reynolds, guard Mike Johnson, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury and defensive tackle Trey Lewis. William Moore started for safety Erik Coleman.
- Joshua Cribbs had 64 return yards on three kickoffs against the Falcons, which moved him past Kevin Willliams and into eighth place on the NFL’s all-time list for career kickoff return yards. He has 7,332 career yards, and his 34-yarder in the second quarter was his best of the season.
- Brown has appeared in all 133 regular-season games in his career, the second-longest streak among active defensive backs — and Thomas has been on the field for every offensive snap (53 games) since joining the Browns in 2007.
- Linebacker Matt Roth had a career-high eight tackles. His previous best was seven at Cincinnati on Nov. 29, 2009
- Defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman recovered this third fumble in the past two games.