MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Take that, Miami.
South Beach still has the warmth and the hot people, and the Heat still has LeBron James and a thumping of the Cavaliers last week. But Cleveland got a hard-fought Browns victory over the Dolphins on Sunday on a perfect 76-degree day.
Cleveland 13, Miami 10.
The Browns (5-7) matched their win total from all of last season with four games left, and they didn’t need a four-game winning streak at the finish. For the second straight week the Browns got a late break, and for the second straight week Phil Dawson kicked the winning field goal.
His 23-yarder with no time left to beat the Dolphins (6-6, 1-5 at home) wouldn’t have been possible without defensive back Mike Adams’ interception. The pick wouldn’t have been possible without linebacker David Bowens sticking his arm in the air at the right time to deflect Chad Henne’s pass 10 yards to the left.
“I didn’t know where it went, then out of my periphery I saw Mike,” said Bowens, who said the team saw on film that Henne throws a low ball. “He had a little Easter basket. It was awesome.”
Adams, who gave up the tying touchdown to tight end Anthony Fasano early in the fourth quarter, returned it to the 2-yard line. Quarterback Jake Delhomme took three knees to set up Dawson and leave Miami no chance for a miracle.
“It’s nice to have Phil,” said Delhomme, who improved to 2-1 as a Browns starter.
“Merry Christmas, right to my hands,” said Adams, who was getting ready to blitz because his man stayed in to block. “It’s about time for us to win some games like that.”
Last week, Carolina’s John Kasay hit the left upright as time expired on a field goal that would’ve won the game.
For the entire afternoon Sunday, the physical, low-scoring slugfest felt like it would turn on a crucial mistake. When Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll dropped an interception with 1:44 left that might’ve gone for a touchdown – “It makes me smile,” Delhomme said – it became Miami’s chance to mess up. The tipped ball capped Henne’s awful day.
He was 16-for-32 for 174 yards, a touchdown, three interceptions and a 37.8 rating. He missed a touchdown to Brian Hartline with a badly underthrown ball that became a Joe Haden interception. Safety Abram Elam set up Dawson’s first field goal by picking off a high throw over the middle. It was Henne’s third three-interception game of the year.
Then there was Delhomme. Dropped interception aside, he avoided the dumb decision that’s plagued him over his last 16 games and had Browns fans all over him last week.
When he wasn’t throwing it away if nobody was open, Delhomme played “Charlie Checkdown,” dumping the ball short and living to fight another play. But he did more than just not lose the game.
With Peyton Hillis held to 57 yards and a 3.2 average, Delhomme needed to make some plays down the field. He did just that on a 94-yard drive late in the third quarter for a 10-3 lead. Receiver Mohamed Massaquoi went up for a nice 37-yard catch to give the Browns breathing room, tight end Benjamin Watson (a career-high 10 catches for 100 yards) caught a 15-yard cross on a good throw and Massaquoi came open on a crossing route for a 33-yard catch-and-run to the 4.
Coordinator Brian Daboll stayed with the hot hand, and Delhomme was given enough time to wait for Watson to come open on another crossing route for the touchdown. Delhomme was 4-for-4 for 89 yards on the drive and finished 24-for-34 for 217 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and a 97.3 rating.
“I felt more at ease at practice on Wednesday than I did the Wednesday before,” said Delhomme, who went more than two months between starts. “There were extreme nerves when I went out Thanksgiving week because I hadn’t been out there and we’re doing our no-huddle stuff and as a quarterback you want to be right.
“Those guys have to believe in you. Those other 10 sets of eyes in the huddle have to believe in the guy calling the plays. I felt a lot better this week.”
The style of play might not have been pretty enough for the Floridians, but it was in the wheelhouse of coach Eric Mangini, who wore a huge smile for his postgame news conference.
The Dolphins used an extra lineman and tried pounding the ball on the ground (32 attempts, 114 yards, 3.6 average). The Browns countered with their own size, as Bowens moved to inside linebacker in the base defense and Jason Trusnik saw more time on the outside.
The defenses shut down the run, pressured the quarterback and got off the field on third down. Cleveland was 2-for-14, Miami 4-for-14.
The coaches were content to punt (16 total, nine by Cleveland’s Reggie Hodges), settle for field goals and play a field-position game. The stats tell the even nature of the game: Miami won the yardage battle 281-252, each team averaged 4.3 yards per play and had four penalties and the Dolphins held the ball for 72 more seconds.
“It was a tough game, it was a physical game, it was going to come down to the end and we are used to these games now with them coming down to the wire,” Mangini said. “I thought we would respond defensively this week, which we did, and just grind it out and slug it out.”
In a battle that tight, every play matters. Haden made a bunch.
He extended his interception streak to four games, broke up four passes, including one in the end zone, and made five tackles, many in the open field. He won’t be giving back the starting spot anytime soon.
Defensive lineman Shaun Rogers, who didn’t practice all week with ankle and hip injuries, had three tackles, a sack and blocked a 41-yard Dan Carpenter field-goal try on the opening possession. Carpenter made a team-record 60-yarder to end the half tied at 3.
The game wouldn’t be decided for another 30 minutes, when the Browns made the game’s biggest play at the biggest moment.
“What I am happy about seeing is us being able to make the plays when we need to make the plays to win the games,” Mangini said. “That is part of the steps we are trying to keep making as a team.”
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Browns 13, Dolphins 10
Cleveland 0 3 7 3 – 13
Miami 0 3 0 7 – 10
Cle-FG Dawson 32, 1:43.
Mia-FG Carpenter 60, :02.
Cle-Watson 3 pass from Delhomme (Dawson kick), 1:16.
Mia-Fasano 11 pass from Henne (Carpenter kick), 10:27.
Cle-FG Dawson 23, :00.
First downs 12 17
Total Net Yards 252 281
Rushes-yards 22-52 32-114
Passing 200 167
Punt Returns 2-13 6-48
Kickoff Returns 3-47 2-48
Interceptions Ret. 3-43 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 24-34-0 16-32-3
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-17 1-7
Punts 9-48.7 7-49.7
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 4-45 4-37
Time of Possession 29:24 30:36
RUSHING-Cleveland, Hillis 18-57, Delhomme 4-(minus 5). Miami, Brown 16-50, Williams 10-48, Henne 5-17, Polite 1-(minus 1).
PASSING-Cleveland, Delhomme 24-34-0-217. Miami, Henne 16-32-3-174.
RECEIVING-Cleveland, Watson 10-100, Hillis 7-22, Massaquoi 4-81, Robiskie 2-10, Stuckey 1-4. Miami, Bess 6-67, Fasano 4-41, Brown 2-27, Williams 2-19, Cobbs 1-11, Wallace 1-9.
MISSED FIELD GOALS-Cleveland, Dawson 47 (WL). Miami, Carpenter 41 (BK).