Browns know how to overcome adversity

Posted Oct 3, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the Browns showed, in Thursday night’s 37-24 victory against the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium, that they know how to overcome adversity.

Adversity kept delivering body blows to the Cleveland Browns Thursday night.

Bam! Joe Haden draws a 29-yard pass-interference penalty on the second play of their first defensive series, setting up a quick Buffalo Bills touchdown.

Bam! Brian Hoyer suffers a knee injury on the Browns’ second offensive series and a rusty Brandon Weeden, recovering from a thumb injury and with limited preparation in a backup role during a short practice week, takes over at quarterback.

Bam! The Bills make it 10-0 on their next possession.

Bam! Barkevious Mingo loses containment on C.J. Spiller, and the Bills’ explosive running back rips off a 54-yard touchdown run against what had been one of the best run-stuffing defenses in the NFL to tie the game at 17-17 early in the third quarter.

Bam! With the help of a T.J. Ward pass-interference penalty, the Bills come back a series later to make it 24-17.

Bam! Desmond Bryant, the free-agent acquisition who had quickly established himself as the most dominant force in the Browns’ defensive front, leaves the game early due to a shortness of breath and is taken to the Cleveland Clinic as a precaution.

Bam! Chris Ogbonnaya, who was doing a nice job of picking up the slack at running back, suffers a concussion.

It seemed as if it was going to be one of those kinds of nights at FirstEnergy Stadium, so much euphoria and optimism washed away by so much disappointment and frustration. It seemed as if the Browns, with a chance to make a major statement before a national-television audience, simply weren’t meant to keep their train of relevance rolling – even after the Bills also lost their starting quarterback, E.J. Manuel, to a knee injury as well.

But the Browns wouldn’t give up on themselves or the notion that they truly are a different team than the one that perpetually disappoints.

They showed the resilience that has become the overriding theme to their season so far. Hoyer didn’t allow three interceptions – or the pressure of a 0-2 start and public accusations that the team was tanking the season after trading away Trent Richardson -- to prevent him from rallying the Browns to victory with a clutch late scoring drive at Minnesota in Week 3. The defense didn’t allow the explosive Cincinnati Bengals’ offense to score a touchdown in Week 4, and Hoyer, again, led a game-clinching scoring march.

And on Thursday night, Weeden rebounded from a slow start and the defense pulled itself together and Travis Benjamin had a record night on punt returns – including one for a 79-yard touchdown – to give the Browns 37-24 win, their third in a row, to put them in sole possession of first in the AFC North.

This time, the play that sealed the outcome was Ward’s pick-six with 1:44 left.

“I think that’s what impresses me most about this team,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “When it comes time to win a game and make plays to win a game down the stretch, we have been able to do that.”

That is the mark of a club that is built for all of that “sustainable success” its decision-makers like to talk about all the time.

You don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by all that goes wrong. You keep pushing and searching for something to go right. Weeden did that as well as anybody, which might be as good a reason as any not to fret over the fact that he could end up returning to his starting role indefinitely.

“Just watching the guys out there, another example of how these guys never quit,” Chudzinski said. “We never flinched in this game.”

Does this team have all of the necessary pieces in place to be viewed as a serious postseason contender? Probably not. Does the loss of Hoyer for any extended period take away from the offensive momentum he had such an important role in building? It might.

But the Browns demonstrated, once again, that they possess some critical intangibles that we haven’t seen from them in a long time.

It is fair to say their roster, with the help of acquisitions made in the offseason via free agency and the draft, is loaded with players who are mentally strong enough to stand up to the challenges that come their way – even on the same night.

And Chudzinski is showing that he has the ability to steer his team through the roughest of waters with a calm, consistent demeanor but also with a strong, commanding presence.

“This is a different team, it’s a different feel, it’s a different vibe,” Haden said. “We feel like that, at any time, we can come back from behind.”

Or, a series of body blows.

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