» Grading the Bills
A- Four days after each suffered an injury, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller were terrific. Jackson ran 17 times for 53 yards and two touchdowns. Spiller ran only eight times, but one of his carries was a highlight-reel run. His ankle looked fine when he cut left and exploited a crowded box for a 54-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Tashard Choice provided needed support with five carries and 22 yards.
D+ The dropoff from EJ Manuel to Jeff Tuel is a lot bigger than Tuel backers thought in the preseason. Manuel wasn’t awful, completing only 11 of his 20 passes for 129 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. Tuel clearly wasn’t ready. He completed 40 percent of his passes and threw an interception that was returned for a victory-sealing touchdown. Stevie Johnson’s back injury in the second quarter tested their depth.
B The Bills held the Browns to 2.8 yards a carry, but the Browns moved the ball well enough when it mattered. The Bills lost the time-of-possession battle by five minutes despite having 10 fewer offensive plays. The Bills made four tackles behind the line of scrimmage on run plays.
C- Buffalo’s front seven did some damage. Mario Williams had another multi-sack game, while Jerry Hughes had 1.5 sacks. Buffalo totaled five sacks and seven quarterback hits. But the secondary was shaky. Buffalo had a single pass breakup and no interceptions. Aaron Williams was scorched on both plays of a two-play touchdown drive, giving up a 47-yard gain to Greg Little and 37-yard touchdown catch to Josh Gordon.
D Buffalo missed multiple tackles on Travis Benjamin’s spectacular 79-yard punt return for a touchdown 2:20 before halftime. Shawn Powell punted poorly again. Jim Leonhard made a fantastic, 25-yard punt return to Cleveland’s 32-yard line, helping to set up a touchdown on Buffalo’s opening drive. Dan Carpenter continued to make a case for becoming the permanent kicker with a 52-yard field goal.
C Doug Marrone hasn’t gotten the grasp of NFL challenges yet. He challenged a fumble his team didn’t recover on opening day and threw the red flag Thursday night on an unreviewable play, costing his team a timeout late in the first half. Marrone also has been unable to properly convince his players to stop committing selfish penalties. The Bills had three personal fouls.
» Grading the Browns
C+Nothing flashy, but it got the job done. Willis McGahee assumed the workhorse role after being signed off the street 14 days ago. Buffalo’s old first-round pick ran 26 times for 72 yards – not a juicy average, but the running back he replaced, Trent Richardson, wasn’t exactly a break-away runner either. Browns backup Bobby Rainey carried only twice.
B Starting quarterback Brian Hoyer lasted seven plays before getting carried off the field with a knee injury. Brandon Weeden, whose bum thumb opened the door for Hoyer to become a hometown hero a couple weeks ago, came off the sidelines and went 13 of 24 for 197 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Browns wideout Josh Gordon caught four passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. Greg Little averaged 23.7 yards on three receptions.
D+Cleveland went into Thursday with the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense but didn’t look too formidable. Buffalo averaged a healthy 5 yards per carry, ran for eight first downs and got tackled behind the line of scrimmage just once.
B+Injuries to Manuel and Johnson made Cleveland’s job much easier here. Cleveland amassed four sacks, 12 quarterback hits and eight pass breakups. T.J. Ward’s pick-six was a ginormous play. Barkevious Mingo had four QB hits. Manuel and Tuel completed less than half their passes and combined for a 53.0 passer rating.
A-Benjamin set a Browns record for punt return yards in a game, breaking Eric Metcalf’s 20-year-old record, and scored a 79-yard touchdown. Browns lose points here for Little bringing the first two kickoffs out of the deep end zone, starting the Browns at their 8- and 10-yard lines and giving away field position that led to a 10-0 Bills lead.
B+The Browns don’t make many boneheaded plays. They could have fallen apart when Hoyer was knocked out of the game with the Bills about to go up two scores. But Rob Chudzinski managed his team to victory, overcoming that deficit and rebounding again in the third quarter after the Bills scored the first two touchdowns to take another lead.