The Browns improved to 2-0 in the preseason Saturday with a 21-18 win over the Indianapolis Colts, starting fast and hanging on at the end for the victory.
While the majority of the starting defense played, Kitchens was more cautious with his offensive stars. Starting quarterback Baker Mayfield was among the players who didn’t play in the game, instead handing the keys to third- and fourth-string quarterbacks Garrett Gilbert and David Blough.
Gilbert opened the game’s scoring with a touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong, but wasn’t done there. Here are five players who impressed in the victory.
1. Garrett Gilbert
Gilbert was precise and decisive throughout the contest, enjoying solid protection early and navigating the pocket when needed to move the football. Gilbert fired passes to targets at all levels of the field with consistent accuracy, finishing 13-of-19 passing for 151 yards, two touchdowns and a sterling passer rating of 127.3.
His best throw produced a touchdown when he rolled right away from pressure, delivered off his back foot and found Strong in the back of the end zone for the game’s first touchdown. The connection capped a seven-play, 64-yard drive finished in just 4:09 and provided the Browns with early momentum.
Gilbert continued finding success on the Browns’ next possession, highlighted by a completion to D.J. Montgomery, who made a contested catch over Colts defensive back Marvel Tell along the sideline for a gain of 32 and a fresh set of downs on the Indianapolis 6. On the very next play, Gilbert dropped, surveyed and dropped off a pass to former Alliance of American Football teammate D’Ernest Johnson for a 6-yard touchdown.
Gilbert exited the game after the conclusion of the first half, building a 14-7 lead over the Colts before handing the duties over to Blough for the rest of the game. Gilbert is the third-string quarterback, seated behind Mayfield and veteran backup Drew Stanton, but is making a case to be on the final roster and serve as a reliable option behind the aforementioned two, should the Browns carry three quarterbacks.
“My job, my goal really every day is simply to just go out and improve to be the best quarterback I can be for this team,” Gilbert said after the win. “I think it’s important to not make the same mistake twice. So just continue to earn every day and get better and then you know all of that where I fall in the depth chart, any of that stuff, that doesn’t matter to me. It’s about improving every day and from there the chips will fall where they will.”
2. D’Ernest Johnson
After Kareem Hunt’s brief outing ended in the first quarter, Johnson took over running back duties and took advantage of the opportunity.
Johnson received 10 carries, racking up 53 yards with a long run of 15. He was quick through the hole and ran upfield, wasting few steps in attempting to gain as many yards as possible.
He also got involved in the passing game, catching three passes for 26 yards and a touchdown.
Johnson’s play opened the eyes of observers who had heard little of him prior to Saturday’s contest, and he continues to build a case for a roster spot, especially with Hunt not on the roster for the first eight games of the regular season due to suspension.
3. D.J. Montgomery
Montgomery has come on strong as of late, starting with his Week 1 performance in a win over the Washington Redskins that included a touchdown grab. He continued on his upward trend in Week 2.
Montgomery seems to specialize in making contested catches along the boundary and did just that in the win over the Colts. His 32-yard reception in the second quarter set up the Browns for a touchdown pass from Gilbert to Johnson.
Montgomery also drew a defensive pass interference call on Colts rookie defensive back Rock Ya-Sin, which put the Browns deep in Colts territory and led to Cleveland’s first score of the night on a touchdown pass from Gilbert to Strong.
Montgomery finished with three catches on four targets for 77 yards for an average of 25.7 yards per reception. He’s firmly in the battle for the final receiver spot, especially after Antonio Callaways four-game suspension to start the season opened extra room for a bubble player. Should he continue to play as he has through two weeks, the Browns will have a tough time saying no to the undrafted free agent from Austin Peay.
Check out the best photos from the Cleveland Browns win over the Indianapolis Colts yesterday
4. Genard Avery
Avery spent the first half of training camp on the sidelines due to injury but has played well since he returned.
He made two key tackles late in the first half that saved the Browns from surrendering a game-tying touchdown. His first timely takedown came just as running back Jonathan Williams was headed toward open field. Without a defender in his way, Williams was building up speed as he exited an open running lane when Avery dove toward his feet and tripped him up, limiting him to a gain of 14. Later in the drive on third-and-20, Avery caught receiver Deon Cain in another open running lane on a screen pass, tackling him 5 yards from the line of scrimmage and forcing the Colts to settle for a 51-yard field goal attempt, which kicker Cole Hedlund missed wide right.
Avery has played more of a pass-rushing role as a defensive end than a traditional third linebacker in a defense that rarely plays more than two linebackers at a time. His value is evident but plays like the ones he made Saturday only further bolster his standing as a defensive contributor on a unit filled with them.
5. Jamie Gillan
It’s rare that we choose a punter as a player who impressed, but Gillan’s first punt of the afternoon couldn’t be ignored.
Gillan trotted onto the field after a holding penalty backed the Browns up to their 15-yard line and Gillan inside the 10. He received the snap and stepped into a bomb of a punt, sending the ball from the Cleveland 5 to the Indianapolis 25, where it bounced down to the Colts’ 9 for a net of 74 yards.
The punt flipped the field in favor of the Browns, who eventually took advantage of such a kick by starting a possession on their own 36. They eventually covered 64 yards on the game’s first scoring drive.