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Browns vs. Redskins: 5 observations from Cleveland's preseason opener

The Browns' first preseason game is in the books and the FirstEnergy Stadium field is already getting the full lawn care treatment.

Here's what we're thinking in the hours after Cleveland's 20-17 loss to the Redskins.

1) McCown one and done in a big way

The plan was to play quarterback Josh McCown for about one quarter. It ultimately became one series because McCown and the first-team offense used a methodical, impressive drive to score an early touchdown against Washington's first-team group.

Three of McCown's five completions went for first downs. He was quick to recognize openings on underneath routes, where he connected with Travis Benjamin, Brian Hartline and Taylor Gabriel to move the sticks. McCown slipped on his only deep pass attempt and was bailed out by a shrewd, veteran move from Benjamin, who induced a pass interference call.

The 36-year-old quarterback's unappreciated athleticism was on display when he scrambled to his left and scrambled some more before he identified a wide-open Benjamin on the opposite side of the field for a 2-yard touchdown.

"Josh was moving around," Hartline said. "We were getting the ball and running the ball well. We were dinking and dunking, we were getting some first downs and to come away with points is always a good drive so it was a good start for us."

The final totals for McCown: 5-for-5, 36 yards, one touchdown pass and a quarterback rating of 133.8.

"He was poised, focused, he was into it," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "Even after that series, in the whole rest of the game he had the ear piece in, he knew the call, taking the mental reps on the sideline. He just showed tonight that he's the ultimate professional."

2) Mixed results on defense

For all intents and purposes, the Browns should have been trailing, 7-0, when they started their first offensive series.

Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon got behind Justin Gilbert and had close to 15 yards of separation but couldn't catch the well-thrown pass from Robert Griffin III. It was one of a number of targets against Gilbert, who started in place of Joe Haden and was on the wrong end of a handful of Redskins completions.

"I'll have to wait and hear from those guys what the communication was," Pettine said, referring to the deep ball to Garcon. "There's some options on the menu pre-snap between him and the safety. Clearly we weren't on the same page and we turned loose. We'll obviously get to the bottom of that."

The Browns limited the Redskins' first-team offense to three points and allowed just two third-down conversions, but the second-team group, led by quarterback Kirk Cousins, had its way with a Browns defense made up mostly of second-teamers. He completed his first nine passes and finished 12-of-14 for 154 yards after leading two touchdown drives. Perhaps it's something about FirstEnergy Stadium that brings the best out of Cousins, who threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns in his first NFL start in 2012 against the Browns.

The Redskins finished with 368 yards, getting 215 through the air and 153 on the ground.

"The first drive, we were able to get off the field and that's one thing you always want to do," defensive back Tramon Williams said. "The second drive was a pretty lengthy drive but we found a way to get off the field, held them to a field goal and got some good work doing it. Communication was great. At the end of the day, it was a good day for us."

3) Jury still out on the running game

Johnny Manziel finished as the Browns' leading rusher with 14 yards. Isaiah Crowell finished with four carries for 6 yards and a 6-yard reception. Terrance West had four carries for 10 yards and two receptions for 6 yards.

Some variables to consider: Members of the first-team offensive line didn't play all that much after the first series. The Browns were also without both of their fullbacks because of injuries.

"It is a long preseason," Pettine said. "Obviously, Terrance coming off the injury and Crow probably having too heavy a load at practice, I am not going to hit the panic button after the first preseason game about our run game. We will be fine."

4) Kicking competition continues

The Browns rotated their two kickers throughout the game and saw positive results from both Carey Spear and Travis Coons.

Coons, who had two long field goals at the Orange and Brown scrimmage, was listed as the starter on the unofficial depth chart earlier this week. Spear attempted the Browns' only field goal and nailed it from 47 yards. Both made their extra points, which aren't gimmes anymore, and handled their respective kickoffs well.

This one's far from over.

5) Other observations

-- The Browns used a handful of different kick returners throughout the game. Darius Jennings, an undrafted rookie from Virginia, made the most of it, returning the opening kickoff for the second half 54 yards. Jennings was 12th in the nation in kickoff returns in his final college season with an average of 27.1 yards.
-- It was a good night overall for Chris Tabor's group, as punter Andy Lee put multiple punts inside the 10-yard line and Marlon Moore forced a fumble on a Washington punt return to set up Cleveland's second touchdown drive.
-- Moore was the only notable Browns player to get injured during the game. He hurt his ribs in the second quarter and did not return.
-- With both of the Browns fullbacks out with injuries, tight end E.J. Bibbs started a number of plays in the backfield.

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