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Connor Shaw earns teammates' respect with poise, preparation vs. Ravens

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Donte Whitner saw all he needed to see when he looked Connor Shaw in the eyes before Sunday's season finale at Baltimore.

Cleveland's veteran safety got a good look at the Browns' rookie quarterback in the days leading up to his NFL debut and the hours before Sunday's kickoff. Nothing changed or wavered with Shaw's calm demeanor. Not even at the team's breakfast.

The rookie gaze, as Whitner described it, never surfaced.

"He went out there and made some plays for this football team," Whitner said. "He kept his mouth closed and he worked all year. He came out here and gave us a fighting chance."

There were some highs, some lows and a bunch of hard hits in Shaw's first NFL game. Ultimately, he showed the same kind of poise and game management skills that made him one of the best quarterbacks in South Carolina program history in a hostile environment against one of the NFL's nastiest defenses.

That was really all the Browns needed in the kind of situation they faced Sunday, but there was a thirst for more as Shaw reflected on his performance in the 20-10 loss.

"I thought I battled. I made some plays," Shaw said. "Obviously I wish I had some plays back. It's disappointing to come out with a loss. That's probably the most fun I had playing football, going to war with those guys."

Shaw, who was officially elevated from the Browns' practice squad Saturday, appeared to shake off whatever nerves he had on the Browns' first series of the game. His first official pass attempt went for 9 yards, as he scanned the field and found running back Terrance West for a short pass that went for a first down.

On the very next play, Shaw found tight end Jordan Cameron on a short pass down the middle of the field for a 30-yard gain. A botched snap put a rough end to the possession, but his comfort was established.

"He had a lot of poise in the huddle," wide receiver Taylor Gabriel said. "He did a really good job. He took control. He was assertive."

After a bit of an offensive lull, Shaw led the Browns 55 yards on a first-half drive that was capped with a Garrett Hartley field goal. Buoyed by a 36-yard run from West, Shaw kept the chains moving when he hit Andrew Hawkins with a 3-yard pass on fourth-and-2. He found Isaiah Crowell on the very next play with a scramble and throw for 16 yards to get the Browns in comfortable field-goal range.

Shaw's escapability came in handy on the Browns' only touchdown drive of the game.

Faced with a third-and-5 from the Browns' 49-yard line, Shaw scrambled to his right to avoid the kind of pressure that led to four Ravens sacks and threw long to a wide-open Gabriel, who ran it all the way to Baltimore's 2-yard line. West scored on the next play to give Cleveland a lead it would hold until the midpoint of the fourth quarter.

Pressed to make long throws after the Ravens took the lead and control of the game, Shaw labored a bit. Two long throws he attempted to Travis Benjamin came up a little short and a long pass intended for Rodney Smith was intercepted by Lardarius Webb.

Shaw finished 14-of-28 for 177 yards. He added 9 on the ground.

"Connor's a guy that we liked all season," coach Mike Pettine said. "We liked him coming out, and felt we were very fortunate to get him after the draft. He showed flashes today of that competitiveness.

"You can see he doesn't have a big arm, and the ball looks real big in the air when he throws it. He can make plays with his feet, and he's just that gritty, competitor type that finds ways to make plays."

Shaw credited his teammates for helping him adjust to the speed of the NFL throughout this past week's practices. They responded with unanimous praise for the undrafted rookie, and he acknowledged those words meant a lot.

Shaw said he felt like he could "play in this league" after his first series. That sentiment was shared by more than just him.

"He's a quarterback that belongs in the NFL," left tackle Joe Thomas said. "It wasn't perfect, but he did such a great job."

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