Friday, October 4, 2013

Buffalo Bills 24 at Cleveland Browns 37 - October 3, 2013




The city of Cleveland awoke on Thursday morning to a bit of a sports hangover as their Indians had been eliminated from baseball's postseason the night before. Fortunately for the faithful, a potential cure in the form of the Browns was on tap for Thursday night. After Brandon Weeden was injured in the Week 2 loss against the Ravens (my 5th game on the trip), the Browns turned to rookie Brian Hoyer, who promptly led them to back-to-back victories. This would be game #10 on the trip and the visitors were my favourite team, the Buffalo Bills, who were also 2-2 and featuring another rookie QB in E.J. Manuel.



Stadium Journey writer and NYPD officer Ed Pelle is on his own tour of the NFL stadiums, although not in a single season. He had contacted me a month before and told me he would be attending and would have an extra ticket for me for the game. He drove out from New York and arrived a few minutes before game time, handing me a ticket for the lower level at midfield. I certainly appreciate the generosity, thank you Eddie.



We both did the stadium tour, and the pictures are below.



This is the series of plaques for all Browns' Hall of Fame members, outside the stadium along the south side.















There were two special events this evening. The first was the start of Breast Cancer Awareness month, which the NFL celebrates by having some players wear pink cleats and towels, while referees use pink penalty flags and whistles. The second event was the honouring of Jim Brown, who played for Cleveland between 1957 and 1965 and in those years set innumerable records. Many consider him the best player of all time, but he and the Browns had been squabbling until new owner Jimmy Haslam invited him to join the team as a consultant. That is him below with some of the cancer survivors after the coin toss, along with his plaque.





The game started very well for Buffalo, who forced Cleveland into a 3-and-out and scored a Fred Jackson touchdown on their first possession. On the Browns' second drive, Hoyer scrambled for a first down but was injured on the tackle by Kiko Alonso, knocking him out of the game and the season. That is him below making a pass on the first play of his last drive.



Brandon Weeden, who I saw get injured in Baltimore (don't worry Cleveland fans, I'm not going to see the Browns again) took over and was booed after a couple of incompletions led to another punt. Buffalo kicked a field goal on the ensuing possession and it certainly looked like the Bills were on their way.

Then Weeden and punt returner Travis Benjamin took over. After the Bills punted on their next possession, Benjamin returned the ball 57 yards to the Buffalo 32, leading to a Cleveland field goal. Buffalo again couldn't move the ball against a steadfast Browns' defense, and another punt gave Cleveland the ball at their own 26. Willis McGahee, who played in Buffalo from 2003-06 and was only brought in after Trent Richardson was traded, then began to strut his stuff. He carried the ball 9 times on the drive for 28 yards, and Weeden completed 3 key passes as the Browns moved to the Buffalo 1 and finally scored on McGahee's third straight carry from there. The drive took 7:10 and tied the game, much to the fans delight. Those boos from before? "Just funning with ya Brandon" as one Twitter wag suggested.

The Bills got the ball back with 3:52 left and couldn't do anything, punting to Benjamin, who proceeded to complete an electrifying 79-yard runback for a touchdown, earning him the top play on SportsCenter. The place went wild and the Browns took the 17-10 lead into halftime.

In the second half, C.J. Spiller ran for 54 yards on the third play from scrimmage to tie the game. After Cleveland punted, the Bills were driving efficiently down the field, when Manuel was hit while scrambling. It was a borderline play as the defender hit Manuel's knee with his helmet, knocking him out of the game. In came rookie Jeff Tuel, who handed the ball off a few times, with Jackson (#22 below) scoring his second touchdown of the game to give the Bills the lead.



With both starting quarterbacks out, it became a battle of backups, and Weeden (passing below) was clearly better. He threw a great pass to Josh Gordon for a 37-yard touchdown that tied the game and sent the crowd into another frenzy. Tuel could not move the Bills at all, and the Browns used good field position to add a field goal early in the 4th and another after a good drive midway through the final frame.



Down 30-24, Buffalo still had a chance to win, but Tuel threw a pick-six to T.J. Ward with less than 2 minutes to go and Cleveland won 37-24 in the first entertaining short-week game I have seen. I was certainly rooting for Buffalo, but given how cursed the Browns franchise is, it was uplifting to see their fans leaving with some hope. Given their next four games are against Detroit, Green Bay, Kansas City, and Baltimore, this hope might be short-lived, but you never know in the NFL.



Notes

The Dawg Pound was out in force in the east end, and both of Cleveland's big touchdowns (Benjamin's return and Gordon's catch) were here. Benjamin leapt into the seats, earning a few butt slaps for his efforts.



Speaking of these fans, there is a dedication to them outside the stadium. It shows that sometimes the little guy can be heard and when Art Modell moved the original Browns to Baltimore, these fans spoke up and retained their club's history for use with a future expansion team.




There was a halftime ceremony for Jim Brown. We were in one of the sections that had to participate in a card stunt, where we held up a card so that the lower sideline would spell "Brown 32" on a brown background. Of course, being at halftime, many fans left to get something to eat and others were complete idiots who couldn't follow the instructions, so there were noticeable holes when I saw the replay, but it was still cool to be part of that.

The Bills cut punter Shawn Powell the next day, who failed to kick the ball away from Travis Benjamin.

Eddie told me about Brownie the Elf, the original mascot of the team. Modell apparently hated it and had it phased out, but it is back and can be seen in various spots around the stadium. And no, the place below is not selling rats, the B in brats is cut off.



Best,

Sean

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