The Browns were one bounce away from a victory Thursday.
E.J. Manuel's fumble in the final minutes bounced into the arms of Chris Gragg to extend what would be the Bills' game-winning drive. The end result: Buffalo 11, Cleveland 10.
Here's what we saw on a night for defense at FirstEnergy Stadium.
1) Running game gets off the ground
It wasn't anywhere near what the Browns want this season, but it was a start.
After mustering just 26 yards on 17 carries in last week's preseason opener, the Browns running backs found more success against a Buffalo defense that is expected to be one of the NFL's best. Terrance West, who missed a week of training camp because of an injured calf, got the start and finished as the team's leading rusher with 42 yards on 11 carries. He had one of three Browns' runs that cleared double-digits, which was also a significant upgrade from last week.
"I thought he did good," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "A couple of times, I think he started to see stuff that wasn't there and come out of the read too soon, but I thought he did some really good things."
Cleveland, which had its full first-team offensive line back thanks to the return of Joe Thomas, still finished with just 89 rushing yards on an average of 3.6 yards per carry. Tack on another 57 yards, and that's what the Browns averaged last season before Alex Mack went down with a season-ending injury.
"It's the preseason so you always take it with a grain of salt," Thomas said. "I thought (West) had a couple of good runs out there. We had a couple nice mid-distance type runs out there in the 10-15 range. It was good. We kind of just threw one of everything out of the playbook from the run-game perspective. We're just trying to feel out what we're good at right now."
2) 3rd down a trouble spot for 1st-team defense
After the second time Pettine used the word "disappointing" in his post-game press conference, he started discussing the defense's first third-down breakdown of the night.
The Browns had the Bills in third-and-long on their third play of the game, but the chains kept moving thanks to a 13-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to Deonte Thompson. Johnson Bademosi, playing in a first-team role with the nickel defense because of the large amount of injuries to the secondary, was in coverage.
The Bills followed with two more third-down conversions on a drive that would ultimately stall inside the red zone. The drive ran for 9:36.
"We should have been three-and-out on defense and had a major technique error on the first third down that extended that drive," Pettine said. "Just a lot of near misses. This is a game of little details, and I don't know if in the first half we were detail-oriented enough."
It was the second such week of struggles on these sorts of plays for the first-team defense, which also surrendered a third-down conversion on Washington's first series and gave up a long run on fourth-and-short.
"That's stuff we can clean up for sure," linebacker Paul Kruger said.
3) Andy Lee showing why Browns traded for him
Josh McCown mentioned Andy Lee's name multiple times during his post-game press conference. It was the ultimate compliment to the veteran punter, as McCown expressed extra frustration about his two third-down interceptions because of how Lee is able to flip field position with precisely placed punts.
"It's third-and-long, check the ball down and move on," McCown said. "If we punt it, we have a really good punter. Lesson learned, move on."
One week after placing three punts inside the 13-yard line and setting up another that led to a fumble, Lee dropped his first punt at the 1-yard line and booted his other two for 51 and 60 yards, respectively.
4) Walking wounded
The Browns were down 20 players Thursday because of various injuries, including a whopping eight in the defensive backfield. Sixth-round rookie Charles Gaines started in place of Joe Haden (hamstring), and players such as Landon Feichter, Kendall James and Joe Rankin were on the field for most of the second half.
Safety Jordan Poyer made it nine defensive backs sidelined when he went out with a concussion after the game's first series. Tight end Gary Barnidge was examined for a concussion but was cleared to return.
"Obviously we want everybody we can have to help us, so it's unfortunate, but it's a part of this game," McCown said. "We feel good with the guys that were in there and when those guys get back we'll get them right in and get rolling. It is what it is."
Pettine hopes to have some of the group back for next Saturday's trip to Tampa Bay for a game in which the starters are expected to log significant snaps.
5) Other observations
- First-round pick Cameron Erving, who started last week at left tackle, played all of his snaps at right guard with the second- and third-team offense.
- After seeing the Bills three times over a four-day period, the Browns came away impressed, particularly with the defense. "You have to give a lot of credit to that D-line," quarterback Johnny Manziel said. "I think that it's a special group they have there, and it is a lot of talent for sure."
- One stat that likely bugged Pettine the most? The Browns had seven penalties for 54 yards one week after having just three.