By Ryan Lewis and Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writers
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CLEVELAND: Wide receiver Travis Benjamin showcased his speed for the nation during the Browns' prime-time 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills Thursday night, and in the process ran right into the record books.
Benjamin gave the Browns a 17-10 lead late in the second quarter with an electrifying 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in which he turned the corner and broke two tackles en route to the end zone.
"It was a wild punt return for us," Benjamin said. "We knew that he just wanted to kick the ball out of bounds and kick it away from me. I knew once I caught the ball that I had great special team blocks and they were going to get me a crease."
Benjamin returned seven punts for 179 yards, the last a 13-yard return in the fourth quarter, to break Eric Metcalf's franchise record for punt return yards in a game. Metcalf had 166 punt-return yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 24, 1993.
Benjamin nearly had a touchdown earlier in the game as well. In the first quarter, he returned a punt 57 yards to the Bills' 31-yard line that set up Billy Cundiff’s 30-yard field goal. It was a quality return, but Benjamin was pushed out of bounds by Bills punter Shawn Powell, a no-no in the punt return world. He was determined to not let it happen again. On his touchdown return, he juked Powell before spinning out of a second would-be tackler's arms.
"First time I let him push me out of bounds and I came back to the sidelines and said, 'I can't let the punter tackle me,'" Benjamin said. "So the second time I cut back inside and I knew he missed the tackle. Once I broke the tackle, I knew I was going to be Scott free for the touchdown."
The other players in the locker room might not have let him forget it had he been tackled by the punter a second time in the same game.
"If you're a returner, if you elude 10 guys and you let the punter [tackle you], you're going to catch a lot of flak in that locker room," inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said.
Benjamin's speed, though, is garnering plenty of attention.
"Oh, my gosh. Fastest man alive," tight end Jordan Cameron said when asked about Benjamin's speed. "It's tough to stop him. I don't know why they keep punting to him. But soon they'll figure out that he's the fastest guy on the field."
No TD dance
Strong safety T.J. Ward sealed the Browns’ win with his 44-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:44 remaining.
Ward stepped in front of Bills wide receiver Robert Woods and had an easy run to the end zone. Ward said it was the first pick-six of his career and the first touchdown he had scored since high school.
"I had a bunch of celebrations I was going to do when I scored a pick-six and they all went out the window,” Ward said. “It was just all adrenaline. I did what I did. And I almost fell on the bench trying to celebrate."
That interception was also some redemption for Ward, who was caught out of position on running back C.J. Spiller's 54-yard touchdown run.
With 8:16 left in the third quarter, free safety Tashaun Gipson tackled Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel along Buffalo’s sideline. The hit was legal, but Manuel came up limping with a right knee injury and never returned to the game. Gipson drew some attention from the Bills after he began gesturing toward Manuel, who was still on the ground.
"I'm not a dirty player. I definitely wouldn't dare try to hurt nobody intentionally, that's not the kind of player I am," Gipson said. "My prayers go out to him, hopefully it's not too serious. At the same time, it's the game of football. It's intense. It's grown-man football. But my best wishes to him, and I hope it's not too serious. ... My gesture at the end probably didn't suit it well."
Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who had 86 receiving yards and a touchdown on four catches, was selected to host a party at Vada, a nightclub in Cleveland. Given his history with off-field issues, Gordon drew some negativity for accepting the invitation.
But after the game, Gordon said he was going to opt for a quieter night.
"I think I may just go home and rest up," Gordon said. "I'm kind of tired."
After only hitting on 1-of-3 field goal attempts Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, kicker Billy Cundiff was a perfect 3-for-3 on Thursday night.
Cundiff, who has been dealing with a strained right quadriceps, hit from 24, 30 and 44 yards, including two field goals in the fourth quarter to give the Browns a lead 30-24 lead.
"He's mentally tough, a tough guy," coach Rob Chudzinski said. "You have seen him out in practice and I have a lot of confidence in him. He came through big tonight, not just with the field goals but I thought the kickoffs were a major factor as well. I can't say enough about him."
It took three consecutive tries from the 1-yard line, but running back Willis McGahee eventually found the end zone late in the second quarter to tie the score 10-10.
It was his first rushing touchdown since joining the Browns.
It was a big weight off my shoulders," McGahee said of crossing the goal line. "Now I can relax. We’ve still got to clean up a couple runs down on the goal line. But at the end of the day we won.
“I look at it like this: They tell me I can’t run the ball, I can’t do this, I’m older. At the end of the day, I think my heart’s bigger than any running back out here.
“That ball’s going in the trophy case, first touchdown with the Cleveland Browns. The rest we’re not going to worry about.”
The Browns registered four sacks. Rookie defensive end Armonty Bryant and cornerback Buster Skrine each tallied their first career sack. Defensive end Ahtyba Rubin recorded his first sack of the season and the 10th of his career. Linebacker Craig Robertson notched his first sack of the season and second of his career. … Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo recorded three tackles and was held without a sack, snapping his streak of three consecutive games with one. He leads all rookies this season with three sacks. … According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brian Hoyer is the only quarterback to win his first three NFL starts for the Browns. … Thirty-seven points are the most scored by the Browns since their 41-34 victory at Kansas City on Dec. 20, 2009.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.