CLEVELAND: Quarterback Brandon Weeden shut down the rhetoric about a “close” competition at his position, running back Trent Richardson showed flashes of dominance and the starting defense nearly pitched a shutout.
The Browns punished the Detroit Lions en route to a 24-6 victory in their second preseason game Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. Cleveland’s starters outscored their counterparts 17-3 before most of them took the rest of the game off with 4:30 left in the second quarter.
Unfortunately for the Browns, injuries put a damper on the mood.
“It was a tough night from an injury perspective, obviously, but we made some strides,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “From a performance standpoint, I was happy and pleased. That’s the game. Guys get injured, and other guys get opportunities and have to step up.”
Starting right guard Jason Pinkston was carted from the sideline to the locker room in the first quarter with a sprained right ankle. Chudzinski said X-rays were negative. Pinkston left the stadium on crutches with his right leg in a walking boot.
Backup rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, ran to the locker room early in the second quarter after suffering a bruised lung. He was taken to the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus before the game ended, and Chudzinski said he would be hospitalized overnight as a precaution.
Backup running back Dion Lewis was carted from the sideline to the locker room after fracturing his left fibula midway through the third quarter. It could be a season-ending injury.
Backup tight end Gary Barnidge suffered a sprained shoulder late in the first quarter, and undrafted rookie kicker Brandon Bogotay experienced groin tightness in the first half. Bogotay said he thinks he’ll be ready to play in the next preseason game Aug. 24 at the Indianapolis Colts.
“You never want to see a man go down, especially one of your brothers,” Richardson said. “We look at each other as family. When somebody goes down, it's tough on us, too. So we've got to keep our spirits up and their spirits up at the same time.”
Injuries aside, the starters excelled against the Lions, who’ll visit Cleveland again in Week 6 of the regular season. The Browns defeated the St. Louis Rams 27-19 last week in the preseason opener after their starters built a 17-0 advantage.
The starting defense held the Lions to three consecutive three-and-outs to begin the night and limited starting quarterback Matthew Stafford and Co. to a field goal. The most excitement generated with the Lions’ offense in the game was when a streaker ran across the field in the third quarter before being tackled by security.
“It felt good to get out there and have some success,” said outside linebacker Paul Kruger, who had a quarterback hit and nearly intercepted a pass from Stafford in the first quarter. “They are a tough team, and we came into this week knowing that they had a good offense and a lot of talent. We did some things well, and I think we’re pleased with the game.”
As for the Browns’ offense, Weeden completed 8-of-12 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, posting a passer rating of 137.8. He connected with tight end Jordan Cameron for touchdowns of 10 and 5 yards.
“He read it good today, and the play calls were there and there were openings there,” said Cameron, who had three catches for 42 yards. “He threw the ball into tight spaces and really looked good today. He’s progressing every week, and that’s great for a young offense.
“Brandon has gotten better confidence wise from last year to this year. You can see it in his demeanor out there. He’s aggressive and he’s attacking.”
Chudzinski surprised the masses Tuesday when he described the competition between Weeden and backup quarterback Jason Campbell as “close.” If Chudzinski’s intent was to motivate Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft could not have responded in a better way. Weeden, who has taken all the first-team reps throughout training camp, completed 10-of-13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 127.7 last week against the Rams, and he was just as sharp Thursday.
“Competition sells newspapers,” Weeden said. “I understand that. I can’t control any of it. Really all I can control is going out and playing well. ... For the most part, I think I’ve done that through the first two games.”
The starting offense fizzled on its first possession but marched 47 yards to set up Bogotay’s successful 43-yard field goal with 6:31 left in the first quarter. Bogotay added two touchbacks in the first half. The Browns planned to give veteran Shayne Graham the game off, but he made an extra-point kick in the fourth quarter with Bogotay sidelined.
“It’s nothing severe or anything,” Bogotay said of the tightness he experienced in his groin. “I was actually going to try to foam roll and get some heat on it and head back out there. But after they looked at it, they felt it’s probably not the best decision for me to go back out there.”
Richardson made his NFL preseason debut after sitting out last week with a bothersome right shin and missing all four exhibition games last year because he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. He played two series and rumbled for 33 yards on six carries (5.5 average).
“I think it was really all about the timing at first,” Richardson said. “After that, we got going.”
Richardson knows the Browns will count on him to be a workhorse this season, and injuries to his top two backups served as a reminder. Montario Hardesty had arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday before the game, and Lewis was hurt with about eight minutes left in the third quarter when he caught a pass for 6 yards and was tackled by linebackers Travis Lewis and Ashlee Palmer.
“He's a big part of the offense,” Richardson said of Lewis. “He's a big part of the team. With his three years in the NFL, I'm learning more from him every day, how quick he is, and he's a great person. We're going to keep his spirits lifted high, and we're going to keep him in our prayers. I don't know if we're going to lose him for the season, but if we do, there's a lot of opportunity for guys. There's a lot of opportunity, and I've got to get in shape. I've got to get in the best shape ever. I am that guy that wants to put the team on my back, a guy that wants to carry the load. I'll be in shape to play all three downs.”
Richardson had runs of 9 and 17 yards to help set up Bogotay’s 43-yard field goal.
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh blasted Richardson along the sideline and knocked him out of bounds during the 9-yard run. Chudzinski said Richardson was still healthy at the end of the night.
“The hit wasn’t as hard as hard as everyone thinks it was,” Richardson said. “He caught me from behind, but I bounced right back up. I didn’t know he hit me that hard until I saw it on film. That’s my first time getting hit by him. You got a guy like that chasing me from behind [but] I didn’t even see him. He came out of nowhere.”
Three plays later, Richardson broke off his 17-yard run. That’s when Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley knocked left guard John Greco into Pinkston, causing his sprained ankle.
“I feel like I’m to blame,” Greco said. “[I] kind of rolled on him. But he’s a tough kid. He’ll get better, and [I] hope the best for him. It’ll be a speedy recovery.”
Pinkston was filling in for right guard Shawn Lauvao, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle last week. Rookie Garrett Gilkey, a seventh-round draft pick, replaced Pinkston.
“It’s important to realize that you’ve got to be ready at any second,” said Gilkey, who had been serving as a backup left guard throughout camp. “With Shawn going down and then Jason going down, it’s just time to step up. And I think that’s one of the things that Coach Chud has really expressed and kind of branded these past few weeks.”
After Pinkston was hurt, the Browns bounced back with Weeden and Cameron connecting for touchdowns the next two drives, which featured receptions of 34 and 23 yards by wide receiver Josh Gordon. Cameron beat the coverage of safeties Glover Quinn and Don Carey in the back of the end zone to grab the 10-yard touchdown. He was wide open in the back of the end zone when he caught the 5-yard touchdown.
“Anytime you can make plays and they’re looking for you and the opportunities arise and you take advantage of them, it’s just confidence for the next game,” Cameron said. “For me right now, that’s the biggest thing, knowing I can do it and taking advantage of the opportunities when they’re there.”
Wide receiver Travis Benjamin nearly chipped in, too, but his 84-yard punt return for a touchdown was nullified by a holding penalty on Browns cornerback Joe Haden late in the first quarter. Benjamin returned a punt 91 yards for a touchdown last week.
Campbell replaced Weeden after his second touchdown pass to Cameron. Campbell completed 12-of-14 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown, a 14-yard scoring strike to backup running back Brandon Jackson with 9:29 remaining. He posted a passer rating of 122.0 before third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer relieved him in the fourth quarter.
Hoyer completed 1-of-3 passes for 19 yards and a passer rating of 56.2.
The starters, though, were crisp. They hope to maintain their momentum despite the rash of injuries plaguing the team.
“There’s going to be injuries,” Weeden said. “You have to find a way to overcome them. The good teams do. Preseason games, guys are flying around, a lot of adrenaline and all that stuff. They’re very unfortunate. We just got to get those guys back as soon as we can, and the guys that are right behind them have to step up and continue. We can’t miss a beat.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.