An illness forced Justin Gilbert to miss the entire game last week against the Buffalo Bills. Three weeks prior, a heel injury flared up in pre-game warmups vs. the Houston Texans, leaving Gilbert without a snap.
As the calendar flipped to December, many who follow the Browns were ready to label Gilbert's rookie NFL season a disappointment.
And then Sunday happened.
When fellow cornerback K'Waun Williams fell to the turf with a hamstring injury, Gilbert was pressed into action against the pass-heavy Indianapolis Colts. He logged a ton of snaps and held his own. But none were more important than a second-and-10 play in the third quarter.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck caught the snap from the shotgun formation and looked toward his right. With defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin applying pressure, Luck thought he had veteran receiver Reggie Wayne open on an out-route near the sideline. Gilbert, who was playing an underneath trap zone, jumped the football and picked off the pass, taking the roundabout way all the way to the corner of the end zone.
Gilbert's turnover put the Browns up 21-7. Ultimately, it wasn't enough against Indianapolis, but that didn't stop coach Mike Pettine from singling out Gilbert as one of the day's top performers.
"Obviously, need to put a shout out to Justin Gilbert," Pettine said answering a general question about the defense. "For him to come off the sideline cold when K'Waun got hurt and for him to play at a high level, I think that's a great boost for his confidence.
"I thought the pick-six was a play that he missed an interception on a couple weeks ago on the same call and found it. Then, obviously, he showed his skills finding the end zone. Very proud of Justin. It's a tough week. I thought he had a great week of practice, and it showed in the game."
Gilbert deservedly kept the football. The lengthy cornerback displayed the very athleticism Cleveland envisioned when drafting him with the eighth overall pick back in May. Gilbert will likely address reporters on Monday about his first career interception.
Kruger's penalty changed the game
- Kruger was flagged for a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty in the third quarter, extending a Colts drive that turned into a pivotal field goal. From television replays, it appears Kruger's helmet never made contact with Luck's and the veteran led the hit with his hands, trying to soften the blow. This was Kruger's take after the game.
- "I didn't think I hit with my helmet at all, but I guess I did," the linebacker said. "I usually try and push the quarterbacks with my hands rather than using my helmet, which is what I thought I did on that play, but I guess not."
- "I had a great view of it, then over and over again on the replay I saw it," said Pettine. "I'm not going to judge whether calls are good. My kids will be mad at me if I'm having money deducted out of my paycheck for criticizing officiating. I'll leave it at that. We have a mechanism in the league where we send in calls to get an explanation on, whether how we can coach it better or what the interpretation was and feedback from the crew. That's something, obviously, that's handled internal. We won't discuss it publicly."
Offensive linemen stand up for Hoyer
- Even despite Brian Hoyer's recent struggles, offensive lineman Joel Bitonio summed up why the team is still rallying behind their quarterback.
- "He comes in every day and works hard," said Bitonio. "Some of those interceptions aren't all his fault. We need to give him time to throw the ball. We need to make sure we are running the right plays; running the right routes. It's a team effort, man. The defense did their job today, and we didn't."
- Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas added that if Pettine seeks out his opinion again this week on the quarterback situation, his answer will be the same: Stick with the guy who got us here.
- "Obviously, we didn't move the ball on offense," said Thomas. "Until we watch the film, it's going to be hard to say, 'This is why it happened.' I'm not a quarterback guru…we didn't hold up our end of the bargain on offense."
Colts find ways to limit Josh Gordon
- Josh Gordon was limited to just two catches for 15 yards. It was perhaps the surprise of the day, considering the Colts' top cornerback Vontae Davis missed the game with a concussion. Gordon nearly saved the day at the very end of the fourth quarter, when Hoyer launched a 50-yard prayer just through the receiver's fingertips. Gordon didn't play as much against Indianapolis as he had in the previous two weeks, often sitting out for third-down plays.
- "Just the rotation that they talked about," Pettine said about Gordon's playing time. "I think we wanted to get Josh's reps down a little bit and kind of balance it out a little more, get (WR) Travis (Benjamin) and (WR Taylor) Gabriel, get their reps back up a little bit."