Rookie Travis Benjamin has given the Browns’ receiving corps the elite speed it lacked in recent years, and the payoff was evident Friday night in his NFL debut.
During the Browns’ first possession of their preseason opener against the host Detroit Lions, Benjamin burned rookie cornerback Dwight Bentley on a fade route along the visiting team’s sideline. He then caught a perfect pass from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, tapping both of his feet on the turf and securing a 34-yard reception before drifting out of bounds.
“My speed got me open on that catch,” Benjamin, a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, said after the game. … “It was a great throw by Weeden. I knew if I could catch the ball and keep my feet inbounds, it would be a great play.”
The completion gave the Browns a first down at the Lions’ 23-yard line, but they squandered the opportunity when Weeden lost a fumble three plays later. Bentley later intercepted a pass from Weeden, and the Browns’ starting offense went scoreless before the backups took center stage toward the end of the opening quarter and ultimately pulled off a 19-17 win.
Nevertheless, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Benjamin used the momentum he gained from his stellar performances in training camp and proved he has the ability to become a weapon on game days. In addition to catching two passes for 46 yards, he returned two kickoffs for 55 yards (27.5 average).
“I think Travis looked good in this game like we’ve seen him look in practice, and I think that’s an encouraging thing because he’s been able to bring it to the game,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “He looked fast on the return. He caught the ball well. He caught the ball with his hands. He had to leap, so he did some of the things we’ve seen him do in practice here in the game, and so that’s a credit to him.”
Weeden knows Benjamin’s quickness can be lethal for opposing defenses.
“The one to Travis, I was really hoping to see single high safety like they did,” Weeden said. “When we broke the huddle, I said, ‘Hey, man, get on your horse.’ I said, ‘Run fast.’ And so he did. He can fly. I put it out there, and he made a heck of a catch.”
Weeden played three series and completed 3-of-9 passes for 62 yards with one interception, a fumble and a passer rating of 19. The turnovers, of course, hurt the most.
“Taking care of the football is so important,” Weeden said. “Field position is so important. We have one of the best kickers [Phil Dawson] in the league, so getting him in range — three points is so valuable. That showed tonight. We had a game-winning field goal late in the game. I think [it reminded me] just how precious each possession really is. That’s my job as quarterback is to keep those possessions on our side and move the ball in the direction we’re trying to go.”
Colt McCoy replaced Weeden late in the first quarter and played the rest of the first half. His 42-yard pass to tight end Jordan Cameron set up Dawson’s successful 37-yard field goal with 7:21 left in the second quarter.
“I thought it went well,” McCoy said. “It was really hard because it felt like we were in first-and-20 like two or three times. We got some penalties, some holding calls. It’s hard to move the ball when you get in those kind of situations, but all in all, I’d like to get in the end zone, but we scored three and moved the ball well.”
The Browns finished the game with eight penalties, two in the opening quarter and six in the second quarter.
McCoy completed 6-of-8 passes for 88 yards (rating of 110.4). Seneca Wallace took control in the third quarter and finished 7-of-13 for 86 yards and a touchdown (rating of 100.2). Thaddeus Lewis entered the game with about 10 minutes left and went 5-of-8 for 90 yards (rating of 101), leading the offense to a touchdown and Jeff Wolfert’s game-winning, 45-yard field goal.
Running back Montario Hardesty started in place of rookie Trent Richardson, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Thursday. Hardesty had four carries for 16 yards (4.0 average).
“I thought he had a couple good, hard runs,” Shurmur said. “We crammed it up in there a couple of times when there was one more [defender] in there than we could block, but we did that by design just to see him have to run the ball in a physical way. I thought he handled it pretty well.”
Rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon’s slump continued. He was targeted three times but finished without a catch.
“When we look at it, I’m sure there are some errors in there that he’ll clean up,” Shurmur said. “But he’s out there competing. If you remember last year when [wide receiver] Greg Little burst on the scene, he had to run himself into this thing and had what I thought was a pretty good year. I think that’s the stage that Josh is at right now.”
The Browns’ defense ranked 30th against the run (147.4 yards allowed per game) last season, and its struggles continued against the Lions, who had 33 carries for 198 yards (6.0 average). … The Browns were off Saturday. They’re scheduled to practice from 2 to 4:30 p.m. today, and it’s open to the public.