Paul Warfield and Brian Hartline have a lot in common.
They are Northeast Ohio natives who played at Ohio State and then as wide receivers in the NFL, including with the Miami Dolphins.
Hartline, from Canton GlenOak High School, is in his fifth season, all with the Dolphins. Warfield, a product of Warren Harding High School, played 13 years in his Pro Football Hall of Fame career, eight with the Browns and five with the Dolphins.
Warfield, who was serving as Cleveland’s honorary captain, and Hartline, an offensive captain for Miami, shared a light-hearted moment at midfield Sunday during the coin toss before the season opener between the teams at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“I know Paul because he has a home in South Florida,” Hartline said. “I asked him, ‘Who are you picking today?’”
Hartline was referring to which team Warfield thought would win. But if Warfield, who knows a thing or two about the position, had been asked to pick a wide receiver who he thought would come out on top, he would have done well to name Hartline.
Hartline had a performance that was reminiscent of some of the many great ones that Warfield enjoyed -- with both teams. He had nine receptions, tying Browns tight end
Hartline’s effort, along with a stout defense that recorded six sacks and allowed just 47 yards rushing, propelled Miami to a 23-10 victory.
The Dolphins went out and made one of the biggest free-agent signings in the NFL in the offseason when they landed former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace to be second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s go-to target in the passing game. But as he has done in the past, Browns cornerback
Instead, it was Hartline who stepped up, recording as many catches, and four more receiving yards, than he had had in his previous four openers combined. His nine receptions are the second-most ever by a Dolphin against the Browns, and the most in a regular-season game.
Hartline was hardly impressed, though. He gave the Miami passing attack, which produced 272 yards as Tannehill completed 24 of 38 attempts for a touchdown with an interception, a grade of B-minus overall.
“We have to get better; it wasn’t good enough,” Hartline said. “This was just the first game. If you don’t make progress between now and the 17th week, you’re not doing very good.”
As for his own play, he was as shifty eluding the spotlight as he was on his pass routes, saying simply, “I just try to do my part. I think we started off slow as an offense. We could have definitely gotten off to a better start. I was just there when the team needed the offense to move the ball and move the chains. I had the opportunity to make a big play and was able to do it.”
Bothered by the Browns’ strong pass rush, the Dolphins threw for just 98 yards and scored but two field goals en route to trailing, 7-6, at halftime.
“We made a little adjustment at halftime and the offensive line was better against the pass rush in the second half,” Tannehill said.
That showed on the Dolphins’ third drive of the third quarter after they had done little on their first two possessions. After pinning the Browns deep in their territory and forcing a punt, the Dolphins went to work at the Miami 49.
“We knew that was going to be a big-time drive for us,” Tannehill said. “I told the guys in the huddle, ‘If we put points on the board, we’ve got a good chance to win the game.’”
Tannehill threw a 12-yard pass to wide receiver Brandon Gibson to convert a third-and-nine play from the 50. Then, two plays later, he hit Hartline in stride as he raced down the left sideline. Hartline put on a double-move, stopping and then starting again to break free. When Caleb Sturgis kicked the extra point, Miami went ahead, 13-10, with 6:34 remaining in the quarter and took control from there.
“On the play we called, I could have gone to either Brian or Mike (Wallace),” Tannehill said. “Brian got bumped right away. So I looked over at Mike, but they were crowding him. I then looked back at Brian, and he had beaten his man.
“They were crowding Mike all day. Today just wasn’t the day for him. That opened things up for Hartline.”
And the former GlenOak Golden Eagle took full advantage.