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Browns' special teams deliver big returns, bigger hits vs. Colts


After a week of build-up and chatter, the Dawg Pound faced no threat of an intruder crossing into its territory.

Arguably the best performance of the season from Cleveland's special teams coverage units was the reason why Josh Cribbs and the Indianapolis Colts return teams didn't make the noise they hoped for in Sunday's game at FirstEnergy Stadium.

A few days after the former Brown said he wanted to jump in the Dawg Pound -- he later clarified he wouldn't out of respect for the fan base -- punter Spencer Lanning placed the ball in ideal spots while Marlon Moore, Johnson Bademosi and the rest of the Browns' unheralded special teams players delivered big hits to eliminate any possibility of it occurring.

"Hats off to our (special teams players)," defensive lineman Desmond Bryant said. "They made good plays, especially in crunch time when it really mattered."

That's what made the 25-24 loss even tougher to stomach on a day that saw the Browns' special teams thrive in a number of areas.

Lanning punted nine times and averaged 45.2 yards per attempt with a net of 42.6. It was where they were placed that mattered more, as Cribbs was only able to return three for a combined 4 yards.

Six of the Colts' 17 possessions started inside their own 20-yard line. Five of the six were because of Lanning's punts, which either forced Cribbs to run away from them entirely and allow the Browns to down it inside the 20 or take hard hits from the likes of Moore, who was back in the lineup after missing the previous two games with a hamstring injury.

Moore took Cribbs down twice, the second of which resulted in a 3-yard loss and a fumble Cribbs eventually recovered.

"Cleveland wanted it. They played hard out there," Cribbs said. "They played very hard and you saw at the end there. We took it at the end. That was some great football out there."

One of Lanning's best punts of the day ultimately led to the Browns' first of two defensive touchdowns. With the Colts pinned inside their own 10-yard line, Paul Kruger and Bryant brought down quarterback Andrew Luck, forced a fumble and allowed linebacker Craig Robertson to fall on it for the score.

Lanning's best punt, which was downed at the 1-yard line midway through the third quarter, preceded the Browns' other defensive touchdown. The Colts escaped the shadow of their own goal line with a first down but their drive came to an end when rookie Justin Gilbert intercepted Luck and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.

With one of the best return men in Browns' history struggling on the other side of the field, Travis Benjamin had one of his best games of the season. Benjamin averaged 16.3 yards on his four punt returns with the bulk coming on a season-long 37-yarder in the first quarter.

The Browns came into the game with 77 punt return yards on the season and left with 142.

Cleveland was a field goal away from a unanimously strong special teams performance. Considering the final margin of the Colts' victory, Billy Cundiff's miss on a 40-yarder in the second quarter was as costly as it gets.

Cundiff's missed at least one field goal in five consecutive games but ended the day with what he described as a confidence boost after connecting on a 39-yard attempt midway through the fourth quarter.

"That's kind of more what we expect as a unit. I feel like that's a good thing moving forward," Cundiff said. "(The misses) all sting. We work really hard so it's one of those things, when you start off the season, you feel like you've got all the confidence in the world. Still do.

"At the end of the day, I knew that I had all the confidence in the world that if I had to kick a game-winner, I was going to make it."

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