June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Coach Pat Shurmur opens Browns career with victory

CLEVELAND – Browns coach Pat Shurmur couldn’t have asked for much more Saturday night at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Quarterback Colt McCoy looked like an old pro in Shurmur’s new West Coast Offense, and the first-team offense scored two touchdowns in three possessions, exiting with a lead.

Rookie defensive linemen Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard made plays in the Green Bay backfield, and the first-team defense escaped with no significant injuries.

The Browns beat 27-17 on a perfect summer night along the lakefront.

For a man standing on the sideline in his first game as a head coach, Shurmur couldn’t help but soak in the experience.

“It was fun,” he said. “Any first is exciting. To be a head coach in the NFL is very exciting.

“I learned a long time ago it’s hard to win in this league. So even though this one doesn’t go in the record books, that feeling that you get when you win a game is something we all long for and we try to search out. So that part feels good.”

A preseason opener – even one against the Super Bowl champions – won’t be remembered for long. But McCoy’s impressive performance can’t be overlooked.

Despite having just two weeks of training camp to work with coaches on the new offensive system, McCoy went 9-for-10 for 135 yards, a touchdown and a 152.1 rating.

The touchdown – on Cleveland’s first possession after forcing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense to go three-and-out – came on a 27-yard pass to Joshua Cribbs down the right sideline. Cribbs was one-on-one by Pat Lee, who was filling in for Pro Bowler Charles Woodson, who had the night off. Cribbs separated from Lee at the goal line, just as McCoy’s pretty pass arrived.

“Colt did a really good job just laying it out and allowing me to make a play,” Cribbs said.

The score capped an eight-play, 71-yard drive, and Shurmur embraced McCoy when he got to the sideline, wrapping his arm around McCoy’s orange helmet and talking into his earhole.

“Colt’s a little bit of a gamer. So this was right up his alley,” Shurmur said. “He knows what he’s looking at.”

The game turned out well, but the Shurmur Era got off to a shaky start. After kicking off, the Browns were forced to burn a timeout before the first snap when they had 12 men on the field. Linebacker Kaluka Maiava, starting for Chris Gocong (neck stinger), didn’t realize the Browns were in the nickel and he shouldn’t be out there.

“Tried to set a record with our first play calling timeout,” Shurmur joked.

The first offensive drive started much the same way, as McCoy couldn’t find anyone open and missed rookie fullback Owen Marecic with a lateral. Marecic didn’t realize it was a lateral and failed to jump on the live ball. The officials blew the play dead when no one went after the ball, and the Browns proceeded to get in a groove.

McCoy’s only incompletion came on a ball batted at the line on first down in his third possession. He followed with a 19-yard out to tight end Benjamin Watson and a 37-yarder to Watson down the seam. Watson twisted in the air to make the grab, then pulled a Peyton Hillis and tried to hurdle a defender.

Hillis (five carries for 16 yards) scored from the 3-yard line on the next play for a 14-7 lead.

“It went pretty smooth,” McCoy said. “For the most part, we executed pretty well.”

Rodgers and the Green Bay starters took a seat after two series. Rodgers misfired twice on the first drive, then was perfect out of the no-huddle on the second possession. He was 5-for-5 for 69 yards and a 21-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings.

The score looked a lot like the one to Cribbs. Veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown was in single coverage down the left sideline, and Rodgers’ throw was perfect to Jennings’ back shoulder. Rodgers, the Super Bowl MVP, finished the night 6-for-8 for 74 yards, a touchdown and a 142.7 rating.

With the second-, third- and fourth-teamers fighting for roster spots in the second half, the Browns rallied from a 17-14 halftime deficit.

Jeff Wolfert, who has no chance of beating out veteran Phil Dawson, kicked a 46-yard field goal with 10:09 left in the third quarter to tie it. Linebacker Titus Brown won it with a 43-yard fumble return after linebacker Brian Smith, an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame, drilled No. 3 quarterback Graham Harrell from the blindside, knocking the ball loose.

“I saw the ball and ran as fast as I could to the end zone,” said Brown, who kept the ball as a souvenir. “It’s my first (touchdown). Hopefully it’s not the last one.”

Cleveland’s Seneca Wallace played most of the second and third quarters but wasn’t sharp. He went 11-for-17 for 99 yards and an interception, leading a field-goal drive.

Cleveland’s first three draft picks made contributions in limited action. Taylor (the 21st overall pick) started at defensive tackle and forced a holding penalty on center Scott Wells when he shot the gap. Taylor later burst into the backfield to help force an incompletion.

Sheard (No. 37) started at right end and combined for a sack of Matt Flynn, though left end Jayme Mitchell was credited in the statbook. Receiver Greg Little (No. 59) had two catches for 20 yards with no drops.

“I thought the effort was good,” Shurmur said. “There’s some guys that showed up that we expected to show up and make plays, there were some other guys that flashed and did well for themselves.

“We have a long way to go. But there were some flashes of things I think we can build on.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.