DETROIT – Quarterback Jake Delhomme opened the preseason as the Browns’ No. 1 question mark.
After answering every doubt in three near-perfect preseason games, his recovery from a disastrous 2009 season looks complete.
Now, if only the rest of the Browns could match his performance and composure.
The Browns (1-2) led the Lions when the starters took a seat Saturday, but three fumbles that led to 21 points sunk Cleveland in a 35-27 loss at Ford Field.
If the third preseason game is the dress rehearsal for the regular season – coach Eric Mangini treated it as such – the Browns have plenty of work to do before they’re ready to take center stage.
“The offense can’t do that. We’re playing defense when we’re giving away points,” said running back Jerome Harrison, who continued his poor preseason with a lost fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter. “It’s hard to win in this league when you’re giving away the ball like that.”
The Browns followed their five-turnover night in the slop last Saturday with three more turnovers and seven penalties. With the first- and second-team defense repeatedly giving up chunks of yardage, it was too much for even an efficient offense to overcome.
Unlike the regular season, the final score isn’t all that matters in the preseason. So it’s acceptable for Mangini, president Mike Holmgren and all the anxious fans to cheer loudly – and breathe a sigh of relief – when it comes to Delhomme.
He threw 18 interceptions last year in Carolina and was run out of the town where he was once a hero. He credits the change in scenery for the change in play.
He went 20-for-25 for 152 yards, a touchdown and a 105.3 rating Saturday. In three games, he’s 38-for-48 (79 percent) for 345 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a superlative 110.5 rating.
“It’s funny, I got a text from my wife: ‘Good job, that smile was back, I liked seeing that,’” Delhomme said. “We’ve been together for a long time, since we were in high school. I believe in having fun. I’m having a whole lot of fun right now.”
Delhomme exited after the first half, which ended with a 78-yard touchdown drive and the Browns up 24-14. He executed the no-huddle offense fluidly, drew two offside penalties with hard counts and the offense amassed 217 yards.
He’s ready for the regular season to start Sept. 12 in Tampa Bay.
“Absolutely. You’re getting antsy,” he said. “We did some decent things and it’s something to build off of.”
The defense has plenty to fix.
Matthew Stafford shredded the Browns for touchdowns on Detroit’s opening drive of each half. He was done after the first possession of the second half, with the Browns leading 24-21.
Stafford, the No. 1 pick in 2009, went 13-for-17 for 141 yards, a touchdown and a 120.0 rating. The three starting quarterbacks the Browns have faced – Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, St. Louis’ A.J. Feeley and Stafford – have led five touchdown drives in less than four quarters of action.
“We didn’t play the game we wanted to play,” said cornerback Sheldon Brown, who allowed the first touchdown on a well-thrown pass to Bryant Johnson.
Rookie running back Jahvid Best went 51 yards with a pitchout on the first Lions play, and the Browns looked off balance and out of position much of the night. Best left the game with leg tightness, but had already done the damage.
“I don’t think we’re that far off,” Mangini said of the defense. “But it doesn’t work that way. You can’t be a little bit off.
“We’ve got to find a way to get off the field.”
Fourth-quarter fumbles by tight end Evan Moore and rookie quarterback Colt McCoy cut short promising drives and led directly to touchdowns that gave the Lions the win.
“Turnovers led to 21 points this week and nine last week,” Mangini said. “You can’t be successful that way.”
McCoy played a little better than in previous weeks, going 10-for-14 for 76 yards, but he was stripped and lost a fumble and botched a hurry-up drive in the final seconds. He threw a dump-off with no timeouts that ate precious seconds, then threw a Hail Mary out of bounds to end the game.
“Whether there are receivers there or not, you throw it up in the end zone and see what happens,” Mangini said. “Chalking that up to age and inexperience and we’ll get that fixed.”
The Browns defense didn’t have any sacks for the second straight week, but there were a few highlights.
Rookie cornerback Joe Haden led the team with five tackles and had a couple of nice pass breakups. The play of the game came when defensive lineman Brian Schaefering stripped Kevin Smith and cornerback Eric Wright picked it up and high-stepped 44 yards to a touchdown.
That stopped a string of seven terrible plays to start the game for the defense.
“I saw Matt (Stafford) back there, he wasn’t going to catch me,” said Wright, who pretended to throw dice once he reached the end zone. “It was just something that came to me. My mind is pretty brilliant in the celebration category.
“Roll a 7 – I think we got 7 points out of that – picked up the money.”
Maybe Delhomme’s strong preseason wasn’t the only thing worth celebrating.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or email@example.com.
Lions 35, Browns 27
Cleveland 10 14 3 0 - 27
Detroit 7 7 7 14 - 35
Cle-FG Dawson 35, 7:11.
Det-B.Johnson 7 pass from Stafford (Hauschka kick), 5:43.
Cle-Wright 44 fumble return (Dawson kick), :05.
Cle-Vickers 5 pass from Delhomme (Dawson kick), 8:09.
Det-Houston 14 fumble return (Hauschka kick), 3:40.
Cle-Hillis 1 run (Dawson kick), :24.
Det-Smith 2 run (Hauschka kick), 10:39.
Cle-FG Dawson 45, 5:11.
Det-A.Brown 4 run (Hauschka kick), 9:38.
Det-A.Brown 2 run (Hauschka kick), 4:55.
First downs 26 22
Total Net Yards 414 347
Rushes-yards 26-109 26-154
Passing 305 193
Punt Returns 3-29 0-0
Kickoff Returns 6-141 4-95
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 34-48-0 19-27-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-14 0-0
Punts 1-29.0 4-43.0
Fumbles-Lost 4-3 2-1
Penalties-Yards 7-45 7-62
Time of Possession 34:31 25:29
RUSHING-Cleveland, Harrison 11-34, Hillis 7-26, Mitchell 1-26, Wallace 1-15, Jennings 3-3, Davis 1-3, Delhomme 2-2. Detroit, Best 1-51, Felton 6-37, A.Brown 5-34, Smith 8-20, Dorsey 2-9, Morris 2-4, Stanton 1-0, Stafford 1-(minus 1).
PASSING-Cleveland, Delhomme 20-25-0-152, Wallace 4-9-0-91, McCoy 10-14-0-76. Detroit, Stafford 13-17-0-141, Sh.Hill 6-10-0-52.
RECEIVING-Cleveland, Hillis 4-40, Davis 4-35, Cribbs 3-47, Moore 3-36, Jennings 3-33, Robiskie 3-30, Engram 3-22, Harrison 3-(minus 3), Massaquoi 2-36, Watson 2-14, Johnson 1-16, Mitchell 1-5, Vickers 1-5, Stuckey 1-3. Detroit, C.Johnson 2-42, Gronkowski 2-22, Burleson 2-21, Scheffler 2-19, Heller 2-12, Smith 2-9, A.Brown 1-16, Pettigrew 1-16, Best 1-10, D.Williams 1-8, B.Johnson 1-7, Nordin 1-6, Morris 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALS-None.