When the Browns needed a receiver to make a play on their game-winning drive Sunday against the Panthers, Donovan Peoples-Jones rose to the occasion.
On second-and-12 with 47 seconds left, QB Jacoby Brissett threw a pass to the chest of Peoples-Jones, who had a Panthers defender hurdling over his shoulder to swat the ball down. Peoples-Jones kept his focus, squeezed the pass to his body and immediately put the ball on the turf after he was tackled so the offense could line up again and spike it to stop the clock.
The play, which moved the Browns into Panthers territory, encapsulated the strengths of Peoples-Jones' game: intelligence, poise and athleticism. He got open, completed the catch in traffic and didn't waste time setting the Browns up for the next play.
If he didn't squeeze the pass, the Browns would've faced a third-and-12 and might not have had an opportunity for Cade York to kick a 58-yard field goal to win the game.
"(He was) huge, early and late," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He's a guy we really trust, and we've had trust in him the moment he stepped on campus. He's going to be where he's supposed to be. He's physical, and he can run away from you."
Peoples-Jones was the most targeted Browns receiver with 11 attempts in Sunday's 26-24 win, the Browns' first in Week 1 since 2004. He caught a single-game career high six passes for 60 yards, which led Browns receivers, and met the expectations the Browns have for him to be the second receiver on the depth chart behind Amari Cooper.
Most of his catches looked similar to the one he made in the final minute — with a defender right next to him, sticking their arm in his vision to break up the pass or force a drop.
Peoples-Jones didn't flinch.
"He played big," Brissett said. "A lot of those were huge plays we needed at the right time, and he came up for us. Talking to Donovan, he lives for those moments. He was ready for it. He was obviously ready for those plays."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Panthers yesterday by the Browns photo team
York blocking Week 1 fame
As soon as his 58-yard game-winning attempt went through the uprights Sunday in Carolina, Cade York became one of the biggest Browns celebrities in Cleveland.
Fans have bought jerseys and T-shirts donning his name and have showered him with praise on social media. It's one of the fastest ascensions to stardom we've seen from a Browns rookie in quite some time, but it's not surprising to see it from a city that has long starved for a clutch, consistent kicker.
York, though, has paid little attention to his growing popularity.
"I had a good game, but also next week is a new game," he said. "Cleveland can hate me after the next game, so it doesn't really mean anything."
Check out photos of Cade York's 58-yard game-winning field goal against the Panthers and other scenes from the Browns' Week 1 win.
Offense fixing communication errors
The offense had a few hiccups Sunday when it came to getting situated at the line of scrimmage. With two delay-of-game penalties and several other close calls, Brissett said the group is working on improving communication and overall pre-snap cohesiveness.
"I think it was confusion," he said. "It all falls back on communication. I think that was one of our bigger issues. It had nothing to do with the other team. It had everything to do with us. We have another week to prepare and fix those."