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Browns defense couldn't wait for Sunday, and they played like it

Sunday couldn't come fast enough for the Browns defense, and the feeling had little to do with the arrival of a rookie quarterback to FirstEnergy Stadium.

Frustrated, disappointed, all of the above: The words to describe how the group felt after surrendering 31 points to the Jets in last week's season opener were endless. The only way to eliminate the "sour taste," as Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden described throughout the week, was to log the kind of performance that was expected from it throughout the offseason.

"We just wanted to go out there and play our game," safety Tashaun Gipson said. "We felt like any quarterback, rookie or not, we felt like we could go in there and outplay any receiving corps and quarterback."

The Browns did just that in their home-opening, 28-14 victory. It wasn't perfect, as speedy playmaker Dexter McCluster had a career day and the disadvantage in time of possession caught up with the group in the second half, but the relentless pass rush and must-have stops that were lacking one week earlier reappeared in a big way.

Cleveland forced three turnovers and dropped Tennessee rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota seven times. The toll of the numerous other hits levied on the No. 2 overall pick was immeasurable, as Mariota completed 21-of-37 passes for 257 yards one week after he registered a perfect quarterback rating in a rout of Tampa Bay.

"We were giving him a whole lot of different looks," Haden said. "We felt like we didn't play the way we needed to last week. We wanted to step our game up, get our hands on his receivers, get physical, throw them off their routes and mess up their timing."

It was truly an 11-man effort and improvement from a unit that let last week's season opener unravel during an ugly second half. The pass rush, which predominantly came from just four players, was much more successful from start to finish and the downfield coverage forced Mariota to hold the ball longer than he wanted.

Outside of two scoring possessions that made for some dicey moments late in the game, Tennessee's offense couldn't find much of the rhythm it established on its way to 42 points one week earlier.

"There is definitely some things to get cleaned up, but overall anytime you hold an offense down for that long you are going to be successful," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "When you get to the quarterback seven times and you get some takeaways, you are going to win a heck of a lot more games than you don't. That group took the challenge. I think the whole team did."

It was apparent from the start.

The Titans went backward on their first play because of a penalty. They gained a yard on a run, nothing on an incomplete pass and punted after a pass play that ended far short of a first down.

The sacks and turnovers came shortly thereafter.

Former Browns running back Terrance West's fumble set up the Cleveland offense with a short field that was capitalized upon for a touchdown. A crushing blow from John Hughes and Paul Kruger forced Mariota to fumble near the end of the first quarter.

Armonty Bryant finished with 2.5 sacks, John Hughes had 1.5 and K'Waun Williams and Jamie Meder each had one.

"I think we were just concentrating on doing our job," rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton said. "Everybody did their job, which opened up big plays, and we were able to take advantage of that."

The areas to clean up, as Pettine described them, likely will center on what transpired in the third quarter and the first part of the fourth. On back-to-back possessions, the Titans drove 67 yards and 77 yards to cut the advantage from 21-0 to 21-14.

If not for Johnny Manziel's game-sealing touchdown pass, the Browns defense would have had the game on their shoulders in crunch time. Instead, they used the two-touchdown cushion to their advantage and ended it with another forced fumble from Mariota.

"We know what kind of team we can be," linebacker Paul Kruger said. "That feels like us."

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