It's hard to believe after 87 receiving yards and a career-high eight receptions, Andrew Hawkins is still flying under the radar. But he is.
Brian Hoyer received major props for how he handled the offense in the second half. Much was made about the debut of rookie running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. But what about the Browns' most reliable receiver?
"Hawk showed everyone what we thought he was going to be," said Hoyer in the locker room on Monday. "He's tough. He knows where to be at the right times and he makes big plays."
With the Browns trailing 27-17 late in the third quarter, the offense was in a tough third-down and 12. Lined up in the slot, Hawkins beat Steelers cornerback William Gay on a deep post route, pulling home a 25-yard reception. Safety Troy Polamalu came in for such a hard hit on Hawkins, it knocked the long-haired defender's helmet off.
"I had a great feel on that third-down where he ran an amazing route and got open," said Hoyer. "That was huge. That led to the touchdown drive to tie it up. To have [Hawk] out there, with the way he played – he was a little banged up, but he fought back – that's just the type of guy he is. Those are the guys you respect because they are putting it all on the line for the team. "
There is some precaution going forward with Hawkins. Because he's going to be such a vital part to Cleveland's offense, head coach Mike Pettine wants to see him take care of his smaller frame with more care.
"I thought that [Hawkins] competed well," said Pettine. "He just needs to learn that sometimes it's best to get what you can get and just go down, but he's such a competitor fighting for extra yards, taking unnecessary shots."
Browns use motivational tactic for Terrance West
*Browns rookie running back Terrance West has worn the number 28 since he can remember. When the franchise released veteran Dion Lewis, who occupied West's favorite number, West immediately put in a claim for the number.
But as a rookie with the Cleveland Browns, you have to earn everything. Whether that's extra reps on the practice field, your own room in the team hotel or even a jersey number.
Pettine and the Browns' coaching staff made West a promise: if he lived up to the teams' expectations during practice and in the classroom, the team would consider giving him the number 28.
"He had a great week of practice," said Pettine, with a smile. "He really did. We kind of dangled a carrot with him giving him jersey number 28. We told him it depended on how he prepped for the week, so he was a model citizen the day we told him that."
The Browns didn't let their running back know he earned number 28 until the very last moment. Once West threw on his new jersey, any temporary lapses we saw in the preseason from the 23-year-old disappeared in thin air. On 16 carries, West gashed the Steelers for 100 yards. No other rookie running back or receiver around the NFL put up triple-digit numbers like West did in Pittsburgh.
"The game is about stepping up," said West in a postgame interview with Nathan Zegura. "It's football, so people are going to go down. It's about the next man stepping up and being prepared."
Three things I wonder
I wonder … if Donte Whitner leading the team in tackles (12) is what the coaches want. Yes, Whitner plays closer to the line of scrimmage. But teams who usually have a safety lead them in tackles means the player is cleaning up from opposing teams throwing the ball with ease down the field. Whitner himself will tell you he needs to make more impact plays against the Saints to scare defenders in the middle of the field.
I wonder … if the Browns will package more plays for Travis Benjamin as a gadget player. We saw Seattle and Minnesota use two receivers (Percy Harvin and Cordarelle Patterson) to perfection in the ground game. Benjamin took one carry on a reverse for 10 yards. He has a similar explosive skill set to that of Harvin and Patterson, where the Browns' offensive coaches could get creative.
I wonder … how Johnny Manziel soaked up his first NFL game. I think it was beneficial for Manziel to see Hoyer and the offense battle through their woes in the first half and respond so strongly in the second. Manziel's been a part of his fair share of roaring comebacks. Still, Manziel probably took hundreds of mental notes with the increased tempo and speed of the NFL regular season.