CLEVELAND — This was bigger than any handshake between enemy coaches.Which, for the record, was quick, painless and surrounded by a mob of people holding cameras.
Bigger than any trick play. Even one so cool it comes from the fumblerooskie family and went for a touchdown.
Bigger than any rookie quarterback. Although Colt McCoy made his strongest case yet he deserves to be the starter for the rest of the year, with a nearflawless performance in his first action at home.
More photos below.
Bigger than any career day by a running back who won’t go down without a fight. How many Peyton Hillis jerseys will be opened Christmas morning? The Browns’ 34-14 win Sunday over coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the New England Patriots was about legitimacy. It backed up a 30-17 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Saints before the bye week.
If a 3-5 team can have a signature win, this was it. There was nothing fluky about it.
The Browns didn’t have to empty the playbook. They didn’t need a Hail Mary. The weather wasn’t a factor, unlike in all five wins last year.
The Browns dominated the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots (6-2), who entered with the league’s best record. The Browns were tougher, smarter and better prepared.
“They obviously did everything better than we did, every single thing you could measure,” said Belichick, the former Cleveland coach who mentored Browns coach Eric Mangini but will no longer talk to him. “They deserved to win and had an outstanding performance.”
Mangini will forever be linked to Belichick, so the win means more. That the Browns did it with an almost perfect game plan adds a layer to the joy.
“It feels great,” said Mangini, who got a Gatorade bath from backup quarterback Brett Ratliff. “I feel like I’m in that movie ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,’ how we had New England this week and the Jets next week. “It’s special and it’s special to me because of our guys, because of our team, not because of their team. I know I’ve talked about this quite a bit, but that’s how I envision Browns football.”
The Browns outscored the Saints and Patriots 64-31. They jumped on the Patriots 10-0 before Brady took a snap and finished with a 404-283 advantage in total yards.
Hillis ran for a career-high 184 yards, two touchdowns and a 6.3 average, and added three catches for 36 yards and two clutch first downs. The Browns totaled 230 yards on the ground with a 5.2 average. They converted seven of 13 third downs, while holding New England to 3-for-11, which explains the 38:08 time of possession.
At the helm was McCoy, who improved to 2-1 as a starter as his reputation continued to grow among coaches and teammates. He went 14-for-19 for 174 yards, no touchdown passes, no interceptions, no sacks and a 101.6 rating.
McCoy shouted at the Dawg Pound after Hillis’ first touchdown run, then got into the act with a 16-yard scramble for a 24-7 lead with 5:53 left in the third quarter. He dodged the rush, saw the defense in man-to-man coverage and took off down the middle. He cut to the left, got a crushing block from Joshua Cribbs, a seal block from Hillis and dived inside the pylon.
“It was awesome. Especially after the game, you see everybody just excited, loud,” he said. “What a way to play in your first home game. To come out with a win against a very good football team, that was special for sure.”
McCoy used play-action effectively to freeze the defense and was able to work the outside of the field, which was open because of the concentration paid to tight end Benjamin Watson, a former Patriot. McCoy was poised once again, was given greater latitude in changing plays at the line and threw accurately while rolling to his right.
Mangini dodged a question about sticking with McCoy even when veterans Seneca Wallace or Jake Delhomme get healthy.
“Can we just really enjoy this moment right here?” Mangini said. “We’ll talk about it (today) and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday.”
Cribbs can see where the Browns are headed.
“I was saying it’s not fair for the guys to lose their spots due to injury, but when the kid is playing remarkable football like that, I’m sure they’ll understand if they decide to keep him at quarterback,” he said.
McCoy has beaten Drew Brees and Brady the last two games. Four Super Bowl wins and nine Pro Bowls.
“I don’t know if I can put that into words,” McCoy said. “I look up to those guys so much, I respect them so much. I knew this game, we’re playing against stinkin’ Tom Brady. They can score points whenever.
“He’s the real No. 12 right now. You just got to keep playing, keep understanding what your job is. That’s what I’ll continue to do.”
Brady had flashes where he looked like himself and was hurt by drops, but could never solve coordinator Rob Ryan’s defense of floating linebackers and defensive backs, especially after Cleveland adjusted to the hurry-up offense. The Browns played many passing situations with no linemen and held Brady to 224 yards on 19-of-36 passing. He had two touchdowns and a 90.5 rating.
The entire coaching staff was on its game against the genius Belichick. Mangini, Ryan, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and special teams coordinator Brad Seely were assistants under Belichick in New England and had something to prove.
Daboll’s best call — he calls it “Brownie” — came on first-and-10 from the 11-yard line with 3:30 left in the first half. The Browns had run a couple of Wildcat plays with Cribbs at quarterback, and he lined up under center as McCoy split wide and pretended to be confused.
The linemen remained standing to hide receiver Chansi Stuckey, who was hunched behind right guard Billy Yates. Cribbs took the snap, tucked it into Stuckey’s midsection and took off to the right with Hillis. Stuckey waited a count, then headed left behind his linemen. He dived inside the pylon after a good block from Watson.
“That was a great call in that situation,” McCoy said.
The coaches and players were fired up from the start. No one more than Daboll after Hillis scored on a 35-yarder to cement the victory. Daboll fist-pumped about 20 times, then tried to chest-bump left tackle Joe Thomas. Daboll was knocked on his rear.
“There’s a place for a little man in football, just not in front of the big man,” Mangini said.
Daboll got a hug from Belichick after the game. Ryan got a nice handshake. This win was bigger than that.
“We’re a dangerous football team at this point,” Cribbs said. “We’re back in the hunt.
“We just beat two of the best teams supposedly out there. We wrote on the board ‘Who’s next?’ We really don’t care. It could be anybody.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.