TAMPA -- We're catching the flight back to Cleveland after Saturday's 31-7 victory over Tampa Bay, but we had just enough time to squeeze out a briefer-than-usual five observations before the wheels left the ground.
Here's what we saw.
1) Browns come away feeling good in all three phases
There will be plenty to nit-pick when coaches analyze the film, but the Browns left Raymond James Stadium with plenty of encouraging moments in all three phases of the game in their 31-7 victory.
It started with the defense, which saw the defensive line dominate a rebuilding Tampa Bay offensive line and got off the field when the opportunities presented themselves. This was pivotal to see after a week of heavy emphasis on third-down defense, an area in which Cleveland struggled in the first two preseason games. Outside of the Buccaneers second-quarter scoring drive, the Browns forced rookie quarterback Jameis Winston into a number of bad throws and limited Tampa Bay's ground attack.
"We were flying around there and playing fearless football," safety Tashaun Gipson said. "It was something that you could look at and say, 'Hey, that looked like the Cleveland Browns defense.'"
Travis Benjamin's dynamic, 53-yard punt return for a touchdown set the tone on special teams. It was the exclamation point on an impressive month for Benjamin, who has regained the speed and confidence he had before his 2013 season-ending knee injury. Andy Lee had another good night of punting and the Browns' competing kickers made all of their extra points and field goal attempts.
The offense sandwiched its two best drives of the preseason around a bunch of three-and-outs, as Josh McCown led a lengthy, 9:37 opening drive and a relatively more efficient 11-play, 78-yard possession to kick off the second half and send off the starters in style. McCown, who capped both of the drives with short touchdown passes to Brian Hartline and Gary Barnidge respectively, managed a steady offensive attack to keep the chains moving with a number of quick passes to a variety of receivers. Perhaps most importantly, each of the scoring possessions included a nice chunk run up the middle by a Browns running back, as Isaiah Crowell had two double-digit gains on the opening drive and Terrance West ran up the gut 17 yards near the end of the second-half possession.
"For the most part, when you go out in a little over a half and put up 17 points on offense, you feel good about it," said McCown, who was 17-of-23 for 117 yards. "We certainly did some good things and finished really well with the touchdown to Gary. All in all, we're pleased with what we did."
2) Injury update
Two key Browns players making their preseason debuts had their night short-circuited by hard hits.
Running back Duke Johnson Jr. and defensive back Pierre Desir, both of whom missed significant time with hamstring injuries, exited the field slowly after taking respective hard hits during Saturday's second quarter. They were both diagnosed with concussions.
Rookie defensive back Charles Gaines left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury.
3) Too many hard hits for McCown
Tampa Bay brought pressure on McCown from start to finish Saturday, knocking him down on a number of his pass attempts and chasing him outside of the pocket.
McCown, though, subjected himself to even more punishment on a couple of other plays, including two third-down scrambles on Cleveland's game-opening drive and a brutal sack to cap the first half on a play he tried to extend a few seconds too long. Fortunately for the Browns, who were without two quarterbacks Saturday because of injuries, McCown bounced right up after every one, even when Kwon Alexander leveled him on his last snap of the first half.
"I've been talked to about taking those hits," McCown said.
4) Before the injury, a big night for Gaines
The opportunities have come fast and furious at Gaines, and he continues to ride the nice boost of momentum he's created for himself.
Gaines, a sixth-round pick out of Louisville, collected his first interception to cap the first quarter and made a number of other nice plays in some extensive playing time. He primarily played at nickel, a spot that's opened up in recent weeks while K'Waun Williams deals with an abdominal injury.
Gaines told ClevelandBrowns.com earlier this week he experienced a turning point when injuries started to pile up in the defensive backfield. He started against Buffalo and played even more valuable snaps with Cleveland's starters Saturday.
We'll monitor his progress when the Browns return to practice Monday.
5) Other observations
- DT Phil Taylor was on the field for the first time since last year's November rout at Cincinnati. Taylor, who underwent knee surgery, didn't practice Thursday but was active in Saturday's first quarter.
- The Browns kept most of their starters in for the first half but had a quick hook for their defensive backs. By the end of the second quarter, Ibraheim Campbell and Landon Feichter were at safety while Johnson Bademosi and Gaines played at cornerback.
- Another game, another unheralded receiver making plays. Josh Lenz was the one Saturday, as he hauled in a 48-yard pass on the second-team offense's third-quarter scoring drive.