First Quarter: A new wrinkle
Buffalo Bills receiver T.J. Graham never threw a pass in his college career at North Carolina State, and he had no pass attempts in his rookie NFL season last year.
That’s probably why the Browns were surprised by Graham’s wide receiver option pass on Buffalo’s second play from scrimmage. Graham came from his wide left position into the backfield, took a pitch from EJ Manuel and heaved a quality pass to the end zone for receiver Stevie Johnson. The ball fell incomplete, but Browns cornerback Joe Haden was called for pass interference in the end zone.
The Bills were given the ball at the Cleveland 1, and Fred Jackson plunged over the goal line for a touchdown on the next play, just 1:44 into the game.
It won’t go down as an official pass attempt for Graham, because of the penalty on the play.
Key injury: Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer was knocked out of action just 3:57 into the game when Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso landed on him at the end of an 11-yard scramble. Hoyer suffered a knee injury and was taken off the field.
Second Quarter: All about Benjamin
Travis Benjamin has world-class speed, and he showed it in the second quarter.
Benjamin, who had a 57-yard punt return in the first quarter, made a spectacular, 79-yard return for a touchdown to give the Browns a 17-10 lead with 2:20 left in the half.
The punt from Shawn Powell was a good one, covering 52 yards and coming down just 2 yards from the left sideline. But Benjamin bolted across the width of the field, made great cuts, and broke a couple of tackles before running down the opposite sideline to the end zone.
Benjamin ran the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds before the 2012 NFL Draft. The Browns picked him in the fourth round. He played four years at the University of Miami and had a solid receiving career. He caught 43 passes as a junior and 41 as a senior, and averaged a hefty 16.4 yards per catch for his career.
Key plays: The Browns got a 30-yard field goal from Billy Cundiff early in the quarter, then added a 1-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee with 3:52 left in the half.
Third Quarter: Blaze of glory
C.J. Spiller had two runs of more than 50 yards last season.
He got his first of the 2013 season in the third quarter when he burst off left end for a 54-yard touchdown.
The Browns had been stacking the line of scrimmage with eight or nine men and the Bills burned them on it on this play. Spiller started off to the right then cut back hard to the left.
He got a block on the left edge from tight end Lee Smith and had a clear path to the end zone because the Cleveland safeties were so close to the line.
Key plays: The Bills took a 24-17 lead on a 1-yard run by Fred Jackson. The Browns got it right back to even when Brandon Weeden threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon.
Key injury: EJ Manuel was knocked out of the game when he took a blow to the right knee on a scramble up the sideline. He walked off the field but could not return.
Special No. 1: Here’s something you don’t see often: An outside linebacker and No. 1 draft pick as a gunner on punt coverage. Browns top rookie Barkevious Mingo was covering punts at the outside position.
Fourth quarter: Leave it to Ward
The Cleveland Browns have been perennial losers in the NFL, but it’s not because they haven’t hit on defensive draft picks.
Strong safety T.J. Ward was an early second-round pick in 2010, taken 38th overall out of the University of Oregon. He’s been a starter since Day One as a rookie and is a sure-tackling hitter in the secondary. Thursday was his 43rd career start.
Ward, a first cousin of Jacksonville star Maurice Jones-Drew, iced the game for Cleveland – returning an interception of a Jeff Tuel pass 44 yards for a touchdown to give the Browns a 37-24 lead with 1:44 left.
Key plays: The Browns took a 27-24 lead with 12:31 left on a 24-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff. It was a good defensive stand by the Bills. The drive started at the Buffalo 32. Cundiff added a 44-yard field goal later in the quarter.
Not so special: Punter Shawn Powell helped the Browns’ field-goal drive early in the quarter with a poor punt out of the Bills’ end zone late in the third quarter. Powell’s punt had a hang time of just 3.0 seconds by unofficial clocking and covered only 34 yards.