Travis Benjamin’s 3 touchdowns and 269 all-purpose yards propel the Browns to a 28-14 victory over the Titans. (AP Photo/David Richard)
The Browns beat the Tennessee Titans 28-14 on Sunday, presenting second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel with his first NFL victory.
But the player that dominated the game was Travis Benjamin. He had touchdown receptions of 60 and 50 yards and a punt return touchdown of 72 yards, while averaging 25.7 yards on 6 returns for the day. Even more impressive is that Benjamin’s day could have been even better had another long punt return not been partially nullified by a holding penalty on Marlon Moore. Benjamin totaled 269 all-purpose yards on the day, ranking 7th on the the Browns all-time list. His punt return touchdown tied him with Joshua Cribbs for 2nd most all-time behind 90’s standout Eric Metcalf.
Manziel started off hot, as he did last week against the Jets. He threw the 60 yard scoring strike to Benjamin on the Browns’ second play from scrimmage and led a 50 scoring yard drive on the next Browns’ possession. From that point, he cooled off quickly. The Browns had the opportunity to put more points on the board in the second quarter, but failed on Manziel’s 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak at the Titans’ 19 yard line. If not for the 72 yard return by Benjamin just before halftime, the Browns might have regretted missed first half opportunities as they did against the Jets. The Titans were sluggish to start the game and turned the ball over twice before halftime. They only advanced into Browns territory once in the half on a drive that ended with the first of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota’s two lost fumbles.
After halftime, Manziel continued to struggle. Prior to his second touchdown pass to Benjamin late in the 4th quarter, the offense stalled, netting only 8 yards in three drives. The Titans pulled as close as 21-14 at one point. Perhaps more alarmingly, Manziel continued to be careless with the football, putting it on the ground twice, giving him four fumbles on the young season. The difference between this game and last game was that Mitchell Schwartz and Duke Johnson were alert and covered the ball, managing to avert disaster. In the end, Manziel’s day ended much like it began with another long bomb to Travis Benjamin, but he has yet to demonstrate that he can sustain drives in the NFL. In the seven drives between the Isaiah Crowell touchdown run and his late touchdown pass, the Browns’ offense amassed a total of only 62 yards.
With the Browns leading 7-0, Former Brown Terrance West entered the game with Tennessee driving in the first quarter. On 2nd and 5 on the Titans’ 41, West fumbled the ball to the Browns 50, recovered by cornerback Joe Haden. Manziel would subsequently lead the offense on its best drive of the afternoon, moving 50 yards in seven plays to take a commanding 14-0 lead that the team would never relinquish.
Other pivotal moments:
– John Hughes’ sack of Mariota on the Browns’ 38 in the second quarter. Without Mariota’s turnover there, the Titans likely would have scored much sooner in the game than they did.
– Benjamin’s punt return touchdown at a time when it was desperately needed. The Browns offense was flailing and had its 4th down attempt stuffed, making it look as though the Browns would go into the locker room with a relatively slim lead after dominating the half.
Keys to the victory:
Benjamin – Every couple of years, it seems like there is one player, (Joshua Cribbs, Peyton Hillis, Josh Gordon), who outperforms expectations. This year, it looks as though that player may be Travis Benjamin, who now has 4 touchdowns in two games to lead the league in the young season. Benjamin is a superior punt returner, but an extremely one-dimensional wide receiver. It will be interesting to see whether he can continue to be this sort of home run threat as the season progresses.
Quarterback pressure – The Browns amassed 7 sacks on the day, resulting in the Titans not being able to find their offensive rhythm until late in the second half when the Browns were already comfortably ahead. They did enough to make the game closer than it should have been, but in the end, the defense sealed the game as Armonty Bryant got to Mariota for the third time, (2.5 sacks on the day), causing him to put the ball on the ground a second time.
No turnovers – Last week, the Browns turned the ball over 5 times, resulting in net +24 points for the Jets. This week the Browns did not turn the ball over at all, while converting one of the Titans’ 3 turnovers into net +7 for the Browns. Note that this was not because the Titans did not have opportunities for turnovers. Manziel put the ball on the ground deep in his own territory twice. If the Titans had recovered either one, the outcome of this game could have been very different.
Manziel – Though he was careless with the football and has had difficulty sustaining drives, Manziel has shown the ability to hit a receiver in stride with the deep ball, something no other recent Browns quarterback has been able to do.
The Browns host the Oakland Raiders, fresh off their last-minute victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Second year quarterback Derek Carr had a strong performance, passing for over three hundred yards against what historically has been a stout Ravens defense. The Raiders, however, will have to travel east and play in the early slot. They may be due for an emotional letdown.