Buffalo Survives Browns, Bills Offense
by Dave Staba (@DavidStaba) - posted 3:15 pm, December 2, 2014
For the second straight week, the Buffalo Bills looked like a playoff team during their 26-10 win over Cleveland on Sunday.
Two-thirds of one, at least.
As it has through the first three months of the 2014 season, the defense did its part and then some, keeping the Browns from seizing control of a game Kyle Orton’s platoon appeared determine to hand them, then scoring what proved to be the decisive touchdown itself.
The special teams are fine, with Dan Carpenter’s foot accounting for more than half his team’s points, and new addition Marcus Thigpen sprucing up the return game.
As for the offense … well, we’ll get to that later.
We will also delay discussion of the final quarter of the schedule, a gauntlet which makes Buffalo’s present spot in the standings — tied with five other 7-5 teams in the race for the final AFC playoff berth — particularly precarious.
Thanks almost entirely to the defense, though, this Sunday’s visit to Denver, the first of three against leading Super Bowl favorites in the season’s last four weeks, will be the franchise’s most meaningful December game in a decade.
Back to the defense, which weathered an early burst of competence by Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer, forcing the Browns to settle for field-goal attempts on two long first-half drives. Hoyer completed 10 of 15 throws for 146 yards on those possessions.
The rest of the day? Eight-for-15 for 46 yards and two interceptions, before finally giving way to Johnny Manziel in the fourth quarter.
With the pass rush harassing Hoyer and the secondary producing repeated break-ups and stops, the Bills did not allow Cleveland to turn either of Orton’s interceptions into points, even when the second set the Browns up at Buffalo’s 30-yard line early in the third quarter.
Instead of fading under the burden of carrying the entire team (including an offense that appeared to be conspiring with the Browns through two quarters and part of a third) as it had in Buffalo’s mid-November losses to Kansas City and Miami, the defense not only held, but turned the game around completely. With the Browns ready to take a lead of at least 6-0, Kyle Williams’ third-down sack drove Cleveland out of field-goal range and led to Buffalo’s first scoring drive.
Following Orton’s own fleeting epiphany, which consisted wholly of a fourth-down heave to Robert Woods and an ensuing flip to Chris Hogan for Buffalo’s lone offensive touchdown, Jerry Hughes took matters into his own hands and out of Terrance West’s.
Hughes — Mario Williams’ lesser-known and lower-paid, but almost equally productive counterpart at the other end of the defensive line — ripped the ball from the rookie running back while taking him to the ground, had the presence of mind to realize he had not been touched after taking possession, and was in the end zone before anyone else figured out what was going on.
Just like that, after more than a half of trying, and failing, to score a single point, the Bills posted two touchdowns in 10 seconds of game time.
Hopefully, you had not chosen that flash of explosiveness to use the restroom. Because not much else of consequence happened the rest of the way, unless you are a field-goal aficionado or Johnny Manziel cultist.
Following Hughes’ bravura solo effort, an increasingly flustered Hoyer could not lead Cleveland to a single first down in three tries. After connecting with Buffalo safety Da’Norris Searcy for the second time, Hoyer spent the game’s final 12 minutes on the sideline, watching the 2012 Heisman winner run around and rub his fingers together.
To his credit, Manziel did lead the Browns through an intentionally permissive Bills defense, dashing the final 10 yards himself for Cleveland’s lone touchdown. He celebrated with the aforementioned finger-rubbing motion (to which he also treated the viewers at home in his introductory video clip), congealing his status as the The Situation of the National Football League.
On his second professional quarterbacking series, Manziel received his official welcome from Buffalo’s pass rush. Kyle Williams splattered Johnny Football, who wound up flat on his back as what was ultimately ruled an incomplete pass bounced behind him into the end zone.
Meanwhile, Orton managed to not turn the ball over — or do much of anything else — the rest of the way. After taking that 14-3 lead, Buffalo started three drives in Cleveland territory. Each ended in a field goal. So did a drive highlighted by MarQueis Gray’s second long run with a short Orton pass.
Gray, in his second game with his fourth NFL team, wound up tying Woods for the team lead with 71 receiving yards. The Browns didn’t seem to bother covering Gray on either of his catches, perhaps because he had made himself as anonymous as a professional athlete can be, his long dreads completely covering the name plate on a jersey bearing No. 48.
Such one-off bits were about it for the offense, along with an earnest 97 total yards from Fred Jackson.
Meanwhile, the pass rush only notched two sacks, but continually disrupted the pocket and, after Cleveland’s early precision, got strong backside support. Besides his pair of interceptions, Searcy recorded one of six other Buffalo pass break-ups and was in on four tackles, while Corey Graham batted one down and made seven stops.
The Browns couldn’t do much on the ground, either, with their running backs average a paltry 2.5 yards per carry.
All of which proved enough for the Bills to overcome the Browns.
And, for at least one more game, their own offense.