CLEVELAND —** The Browns departed their preseason home opener Thursday night without a victory, as an explosive first half was ultimately undone by a slow finish. But there seemed to be a sense postgame that Cleveland is heading in the right direction following a 24-13 loss to Atlanta.
On a night that showcased a series of highs and lows for a new-look and youthful roster, the Browns offense shined under the bright lights of FirstEnergy Stadium, especially in a first half filled with big plays and moments that lifted the crowd here to its feet.
"I don't think we're well-oiled yet," coach Hue Jackson said, "but I see potential of us being what I think we can be."
In his second game behind center, Browns starting quarterback Robert Griffin III passed for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 50-yard heave to a sprinting Terrelle Pryor and another 29-yard throw to tight end Gary Barnidge, who reeled the ball with his fingertips and dove into the end zone for the score.
Griffin, who also rushed for 36 yards, kept the Atlanta defense on its toes, looked poised in the pocket and showed the kind of improvement Jackson hoped to see from the whole team following a loss to Green Bay last week.
"We were able to get things clicking a little bit out there – working the long ball, still have a lot of things to work on, just as a team, continuing to work on doing things the winning way," Griffin said.
"That's what coach echoes to us after the games, and we have to continue to handle that end from the older guys all the way down to the younger guys, and I think we will."
Jackson, who was pleased Griffin learned from his first-quarter interception against the Packers, added: "I thought he played pretty well, thought he did a good job of taking care of the ball and distributing the ball to some of our playmakers."
And for an offense still playing without wide receivers Corey Coleman, Josh Gordon and Andrew Hawkins, there is a buzz about the Browns offense and what it could grow into.
"It's hard not to imagine it," Griffin said. "It brings a smile to your face."
After all, Coleman — the Biletnikoff Award winner whom the Browns drafted in the first round this past spring — looked sharp in training camp before a hamstring injury sidelined him. And Gordon, who was nursing a quadriceps injury when he was reinstated by the league on a conditional basis last month, led the league in receiving in 2013.
The potential for Cleveland to have a dynamic offense is apparent.
But Griffin and the Browns have stressed that there's a difference between that and production.
"We have to make that a reality. It's just potential," Griffin said.
"Everyone can have potential, but you have to actually make it happen."