ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- One minute in Sunday's third quarter ultimately undid the Browns on an emotion-fueled day at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Holding a tenuous 3-0 lead, Cleveland saw it disappear early in the second half and quickly turn into a deficit it wouldn't overcome. The Bills rode the wave of momentum from two touchdowns in a span of 14 seconds to beat the Browns, 26-10, on a gloomy day that ended with some encouraging moments from rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel.
I'm very disappointed for us to waste, for a good part of the game, a solid defensive effort," Pettine said. "It was a bad feeling at halftime knowing that as well as we played and shut them out, we only had a field goal to show for it. In this league you have to make the most of your opportunities when you get them and this is a defense here that you don't get that many opportunities."
The Browns fell to 7-5 in coach Mike Pettine's return to Buffalo, where he was defensive coordinator last season, and now face an important showdown against Indianapolis next Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"We still have all our goals in front of us," linebacker Chris Kirksey said. "We are still a good team and we are still trying to improve every week. It's not the end of the world. It's not the end of the season. We've got more games ahead of us so we just have to learn from it tomorrow and flush it down the drain."
Buffalo, which was back in its home stadium for the first time since a monster snow storm forced it to play a home game in Detroit, took the lead midway through the third quarter when it capped an eight-play, 84-yard drive with a 3-yard Chris Hogan touchdown catch. The biggest play of the possession came right before it, as Kyle Orton found a tightly covered Robert Woods for a 34-yard pass on fourth-and-3 from the Browns' 37-yard line.
On the ensuing possession, Browns running back Terrance West fumbled on the first play and Buffalo defensive end Jerry Hughes ran it back 18 yards untouched for a touchdown.
Just like that, it was 14-3.
"The fumble by West really changed the whole flow of the game," Pettine said. "It would've been a one score game and that's the frustrating thing. You can't be that loose with the football."
Dan Carpenter's 49-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter made it a two-touchdown Bills' lead, and Brian Hoyer's second interception of the day set up another to make it a three-possession lead.
The Browns' offense, which piled up 191 yards and dominated time of possession in the first half, didn't pick up a first down in the third quarter against one of the NFL's top-ranked defenses. A running game that produced 162 yards last week at Atlanta gained 74 on 26 carries.
The Browns needed "a spark," Pettine said, and that's why Manziel replaced Hoyer with 12:01 to play and Cleveland trailing by 17.
Seeing the first significant playing time of his NFL career, Manziel took over for Hoyer with 12:01 to play in the fourth quarter and promptly led the Browns to a touchdown. Manziel's 10-yard scramble, which capped a quick, eight-play, 80-yard drive, looked a lot like what he regularly did for two seasons as Texas A&M's star quarterback. His second drive ended without a first down, as his fourth-down pass to Miles Austin came up a yard short.
Manziel finished 5-of-8 for 63 yards. Hoyer was 18-of-30 for 192 yards and two interceptions. Pettine said a decision on who would start against the Colts would come later this week.
"I was probably thinking about calling the play right, more than I was anything else," Manziel said. "As the drive kept going, I didn't really think about much, feel that much just went out and played football. And that's what helped me deliver the ball to those guys and shoot the ball to those guys and make that drive work."
Joe Haden's interception, his third in as many games, three plays into the second half went unrewarded, as the Browns went three-and-out and were bumped out of field goal range when Hoyer took a sack 10 yards behind the line.
The Browns dominated possession in the first half and moved the ball effectively with a mix of short and long passes. There just weren't many points to show for it.
With the Bills' front four limiting Isiah Crowell and West on the ground, Hoyer made a couple of key audibles and got a number of his receivers involved on the way to 161 first-half passing yards. The Browns gained 36 on the ground in the first half and didn't have much more success in the second.
Cleveland's two best drives, both of which milked more than 5 minutes off the clock, resulted in just three points, as the Bills' toughened up deep inside their own territory to force two Billy Cundiff field goal attempts. Cundiff made the first, a 22-yarder, but missed the second wide right.
"We knew it would be a challenge, the defense is really good and we tip our hats to those guys and it was kind of going how we expected it to go," Hoyer said. "We knew it was going to be a grind. Unfortunately, when we got in the red zone one time we settled for a field goal. The second time, we didn't get the field goal. Those are opportunities right there."
The Bills failed to capitalized on a Hoyer interception late in the first half, as the Browns' defense limited the damage and forced a long Carpenter field-goal attempt. Haden, who locked down Buffalo star rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins to three catches for 11 yards, sprinted from the edge to block the kick and send Cleveland to the locker room with a 3-0 advantage.
The Browns' defense limited the Bills to just 91 yards on 26 plays and five first downs in the first half. Buffalo's longest first-half rush went for 4 yards.
"I feel like it's time for everybody to put their best foot forward and try to make plays," Haden said. "During this time in November and December, like we said, it's time to make a push. I think like we said at the beginning, good players make plays when you need them and that's what I'm trying to do."
Photos from today's game