TAMPA -- Fully healthy and given the opportunity to stretch its legs and find a rhythm for an entire half, the Browns starting defense showed why it’s worthy of a little attention, too.
Cleveland’s projected starters -- with a few exceptions here and there -- played the entire first half Friday and barely let the Buccaneers get a whiff at any potential points. The Browns forced six punts, four three-and-outs and picked up five sacks in a dominant first half showing.
It was the most encouraging part of a 13-12 loss at Raymond James Stadium, the Browns’ first of the preseason.
Olivier Vernon, a veteran Pro Bowler who was acquired in the same trade with the Giants that landed Odell Beckham Jr., was disruptive throughout the half and led the way with two sacks and a hurry. Christian Kirksey, Denzel Ward and Sheldon Richardson were also credited with sacks.
The Browns surrendered just 78 yards on seven series, the vast majority of which coming on an 11-play Buccaneers drive that ended with a missed field goal.
That kind of performance was needed on this night, as the Browns offense -- which had everyone on the field for the first half with the exception of Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and David Njoku -- wasn’t as sharp as it would have preferred.
Baker Mayfield finished 10-of-26 for 72 yards and an interception on the final play of the half. He was under duress throughout the half and saw some of his best passes dropped.
Rookie kicker Austin Seibert, who is locked in a competition with incumbent Greg Joseph, provided all of the offense in the first half with three field goals. He added a fourth with 7:32 to play in the fourth quarter to give Cleveland a 12-10 lead.
Seibert’s longest make was his first, connecting on a 54-yarder with plenty to spare. His others came from 36, 30 and 35.
Ryan Griffin’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leggett gave Tampa Bay the lead -- and Cleveland’s first deficit of the preseason -- late in the third quarter. The Buccaneers milked 7:17 off the clock on 16-play drive in the fourth quarter to set up Matt Gay’s game-winning field goal with 15 seconds to play.
Devaroe Lawrence added two sacks in the second half to give him three for the preseason.
Cleveland closes out the preseason Thursday against the Lions at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Check out photos of the Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers by team photographer Matt Starkey