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3 Big Takeaways: Browns pick best possible time to avenge red zone woes

We’re tackling the three biggest talking points after the Browns’ big win over the Bills.

1) Browns pick best possible time to avenge red zone woes

The Browns didn’t let an eight-play stretch in Sunday’s first quarter — arguably the most frustrating sequence of the entire season — become the story of the game. It was certainly headed that way for the first 58 minutes, but one pass — one, simple pass -- completely wiped away the narrative for this particular afternoon.

Baker Mayfield’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins — their first end zone connection since Week 16 of last season — looked so easy. It’s been anything but that for the Browns inside the 20-yard line all season, but in the most important moment of Sunday’s game, Cleveland looked right at home near the end zone.

“Obviously, we did our trial and error early in the game of our red zone and our tight red zone. They are stiff up front in the middle,” Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “They did a good job of that, but the last drive, we had talked about it once we got back down there, we have specific plays we want to get to and we got to that one.”

The Browns started the game off with the same kind of efficiency in the red zone, too. Cleveland marched 75 yards on six plays on its opening drive, needing just one play inside the 20-yard line to finish the drive with a 17-yard Jarvis Landry touchdown catch.

From that point forward, the Browns were their own worst enemies during prime opportunities to expand the lead. 

Midway through the first quarter, the Browns faced a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line after a big gain by Nick Chubb. Odell Beckham Jr. induced a penalty on the first play and did it again a few plays later to give Cleveland six other chances to score. Nothing worked. On fourth-and-goal, Chubb was stuffed once more, and the Bills got the ball back unscathed.

A similar situation presented itself in the second quarter when the Browns reached the Buffalo 3 with four downs to score. A Landry catch got the Browns to the 1 but that’s as far as they’d go. Chris Hubbard’s false start on fourth down forced coach Freddie Kitchens to send on the field goal team, and Cleveland settled for three points.

The wasted opportunities didn’t matter Sunday because of how the Browns executed when it mattered most. The clear feeling in the locker room, though, was a realization they can’t bank on being as fortunate in the future.

“I thought those guys did a good job of overcoming that,” Kitchens said. “We get down there again, I am running it again. I am going to tell them that tomorrow. They know that.

“I need to call better plays when we get down there. But I am telling you right now, we are running the ball when we get down there."

Check out photos of the Browns in action against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday

2) Rashard Higgins’ dream proved fortuitous

Higgins woke up at 5 a.m. with a smile on his face and a reason to be optimistic about Sunday’s game. The fourth-year wide receiver’s 2019 season hasn’t gone as planned, but he felt a premonition he’d be finding the end zone Sunday.

That’s what he dreamed before waking up. The details, though, were sparse.

“I didn’t say I scored like that on the game-winner, but I told (Beckham) I scored,” Higgins said. “It felt great.”

Higgins told a number of his teammates about the dream before Sunday’s game. He went on to see his most extensive playing time since suffering a Week 1 knee injury, but the targets didn’t materialize. Mayfield hadn’t thrown him the ball until he shook Bills cornerback Levi Wallace and found himself wide open for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:44 to play.

It was a long, long time coming for Higgins, who was sidelined for four games with a knee injury and slow to get going in the four games he’s been available.

“Hig just needed to stay the course,” Kitchens said. “I think he is getting back healthy. He has been healthy, but he is getting back to himself per se. He was there where we needed him. He came up big for us. 

“It all comes down to being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there and how you get there is supposed to be dictated by what they do. We need to be consistent in that, and Hig is getting more and more consistent in doing that. That helps the quarterback out, that helps the offensive line out, that helps the running back out and that helps the offense in general out when you do those kinds of things.” 

“He is doing a good job. He has been getting better every week. Some of that came to fruition today.”

3) The defense just kept making plays

Bounces like the unfortunate one that followed Josh Allen’s fumble near the goal line during crunch time Sunday don’t typically come with a happy ending for the defense.

Cleveland’s defensive players, though, just wanted one more chance after Buffalo’s go-ahead touchdown.

The offense gave it to them with the aforementioned, Higgins-touchdown capped drive, and the defense made good on it by repeating what it’d done throughout the game.

Trailing by a field goal, the Bills completed two big passes to move to the fringe of kicker Stephen Hauschka’s range. Buffalo had the ball at Cleveland’s 41 with 1:05 to play but could only pick up 6 more yards. Allen’s third-down pass fell incomplete, and Hauschka’s game-tying attempt would have to come from 52 yards.

The kick, of course, fell well short, giving the Browns’ defense four series in which they allowed Buffalo to cross their 40-yard line but surrendered zero points.

“We had to dig deep and find a way to get back on the field,” defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi said. “The offense scored and then it gave us a chance to stop them. We got the W and that’s the biggest thing.”

Moments like the one that ended the game Sunday made what happened earlier — when Allen fumbled near the goal line only to see his guard recover it and set up a go-ahead touchdown -- a mere footnote. After a number of moments during a four-game losing streak in which Cleveland’s defense surrendered big plays and scores during pivotal moments, the group was resilient over and over again in a game where it had to be.

“That was huge not to give up another play,” Kitchens said. “The defense did a lot of good things today, and I know that they just want to keep building on that.”

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