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Browns rally past Buccaneers in Tampa

TAMPA —The re-energized Browns defense continues to shine.

And thanks to another dominating first-half effort, they took down the Buccaneers, 13-9, Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

Trailing late in the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Kevin Hogan tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leslie, giving Cleveland its first lead since early in the first quarter. 

To be certain, however, it was the Browns' defense that took center stage on this night in Tampa, turning in another impressive effort under new coordinator Gregg Williams in what's considered something of a dress rehearsal before the regular season opens in two weeks.

For the second straight game, Cleveland did not allow a touchdown, holding the Buccaneers to 301 yards and 3-of-15 conversions on third down (including an 0-for-7 showing in the first half).

While the Browns' offense was unable to find a rhythm on a sultry evening that saw storms force both teams inside during pre-game warmups, it was enough to overcome a Tampa Bay offense that experienced similar highs and lows. ​

In his first preseason start, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer completed 6-of-18 throws for 93 yards and an interception.

Though the former Notre Dame star was far from perfect, Kizer — whom head coach Hue Jackson says continues to grow since being drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft this spring — showed poise and promise, completing several passes that moved the chains on third down.

But in a game where both offenses struggled, the Browns were unable to convert those big plays into points, only venturing into the red zone twice.

To be sure, there are bright spots that can be gleaned from Tampa; Cleveland converted 5-of-8 third downs in the first half and wide receiver Corey Coleman, the team's first-round NFL Draft pick in 2016, caught four passes for 66 yards.

The Browns' defense — which shined in wins over the Saints and Giants — flashed once again, sacking Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston twice and holding the Buccaneers to 189 yards in the first half.

On the game's first series, rookie safety Jabrill Peppers — one of the team's three first-round Draft picks this spring — recorded his first interception, picking off Winston on the goal line and effectively ending a promising Tampa Bay drive.

Cleveland responded with a similarly methodical march (10 plays, 57 yards) but settled for a field goal, taking a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter after a Zane Gonzalez field goal.

That back-and-forth was emblematic of a game that watched both offenses combined for 12 punts, three turnovers and 21 penalties.

Cleveland travels to Chicago on Thursday night for its fourth and final preseason game. The Browns host the Steelers on Sept. 10 at FirstEnergy Stadium in their season opener.

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