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Cleveland Browns wisely take ‘it’s-about-us’ approach to preseason finale

Posted Aug 29, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says Browns coach Mike Pettine created the right frame of mind for his team’s last game before it plays for keeps.

Mike Pettine

Thursday night’s preseason finale at FirstEnergy Stadium wasn’t about the Cleveland Browns’ starters having their way with the Chicago Bears’ backups.

It wasn’t about the opponent. It wasn’t about the fact that it happened in the least significant of the insignificant games that NFL teams play in August.

“It didn’t matter what (the Bears) were doing,” coach Mike Pettine said after the Browns’ 33-13 victory. “It was about us. We needed to play to our standards and really keep them nameless and faceless.”

Good plan.

Brian Hoyer’s biggest opponent Thursday night? It was the guy he sees in the mirror every day.

He struggled through most of the first three preseason games. It’s hard to point to one reason for that, but it’s fair to say that the list included Hoyer pressing far too much. He appeared to allow himself to be, at the very least, distracted by the competition with Johnny Manziel for the starting quarterback job – something that seemed to linger even after Hoyer was named the starter after the second preseason game at Washington.

On Thursday night, Hoyer looked and played like a different person in leading the Browns to a touchdown in his one-series-and-done appearance along with the rest of the Browns’ starting offense. He had a bounce in his step. He carried himself with a greater sense of confidence and comfort.

For the first time since the Browns made Manziel the 22nd overall pick of last May’s NFL draft, there was no mistaking that Hoyer was the starter in everything he did and said on and off the field.

The rest of the Browns’ starting offense performed the same way. Receivers, especially those battling on the fringes of the roster (i.e. Taylor Gabriel and Willie Snead), ran good routes and gained separation that hadn’t been seen previously. Blockers were consistent in keeping a mostly clean pocket.

Sure, there were some issues on the back end of the Browns’ defense. Second-year cornerback Leon McFadden looked like the rookie who struggled mightily in 2013. For the second game in a row, rookie Justin Gilbert just looked like a rookie.

But most of those back-end problems should be solved when two players who were spectators Thursday night, Joe Haden and Buster Skrine, are on the field, as should be the case for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Pittsburgh.

The feel-good aspect of the preseason finale is gone. The game served its confidence-boosting purpose.

Now, it’s time to apply that to the games that count.

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