Browns' Manziel, Benjamin make big plays in victorious home opener over Titans

Akron Beacon Journal

CLEVELAND When the Browns desperately needed to score to secure just their third victory in a home opener since 1999, quarterback Johnny Manziel and wide receiver Travis Benjamin connected for their third long touchdown pass in the first two weeks of this season.

Manziel's clutch, 50-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin allowed the Browns to go ahead by 14 points in their 28-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Browns sealed the win when outside linebacker Armonty Bryant strip-sacked Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and defensive lineman Randy Starks recovered at Cleveland's 23-yard line with 40 seconds left. The Browns finished with seven sacks.

The Browns are now 3-14 in home openers during the expansion era and have won their past two. They also snapped a six-game losing streak dating back to last year, earning their first victory since Nov. 23.

Manziel completed 8-of-15 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He finished with a passer rating of 133.9 and triumphed in a battle of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks against Mariota.

Benjamin finished with 269 all-purpose yards. He caught three passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. He returned six punts for 154 yards and a touchdown.

The Browns earned their first halftime lead of at least 21 points since 1994, but the Titans scored 14 unanswered points in the second half to cut the lead to seven.

Ahead 21-14, the Browns faced third-and-6 at the 50 with 3:02 left in the fourth quarter. Under pressure, Manziel evaded a rusher, rolled to his left and threw a deep pass to Benjamin, who beat cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson to make the catch near the 8-yard line. The touchdown capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive spanning three minutes, 50 seconds.

Mariota finished 21-of-37 passing for 252 yards and two touchdowns. He posted a passer rating of 95.8. He fumbled three times, losing two.

The Titans trimmed their deficit to 21-7 when Mariota threw a 19-yard touchdown pass over the middle to tight end Anthony Fasano, who made a diving catch near the goal line with 1:36 left in the third quarter.

The Browns dodged a couple of bullets when the Titans strip-sacked Manziel twice in the third quarter on third down. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz recovered the first one at the Browns' 21 with 5:48 left in the third quarter. Rookie running back Duke Johnson recovered the second one at the Browns' 26 as time expired in the third quarter. Manziel also fumbled twice when sacked last week, but the New York Jets recovered both of them.

Despite the Titans failing to recover Manziel's fumbles, they rallied and put themselves in striking distance.

On fourth-and-6 at the Browns' 13, Mariota connected with rookie wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham for a 13-yard touchdown, trimming the Ttians' deficit to 21-14 with 6:42 left in the fourth quarter. Green-Beckham made the leaping touchdown catch in the middle of the end zone over the coverage of cornerback Joe Haden.

Benjamin caught a 60-yard touchdown pass from Manziel early in the first quarter and returned a punt 78 yards for another touchdown late in the second quarter to give the Browns a 21-0 halftime lead.

Benjamin had 214 all-purpose yards in the first half. He returned five punts for 149 yards and caught two passes for 65 yards.

After preventing the Titans from picking up a first down during the game's opening possession, the Browns struck right away.

On second-and-8 from the Browns' 40, Manziel faked a handoff to running back Isaiah Crowell and launched a 60-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin on a go route. Benjamin beat cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and caught Manziel's pass just inside the 15-yard line before running into the end zone and giving the Browns a 7-0 lead with 12:51 remaining in the first quarter.

Manziel and Benjamin also hooked up for a 54-yard touchdown last week against the Jets.

Starting in place of Josh McCown (concussion), Manziel completed 6-of-11 passes for 106 yards and one touchdown in the first half. His passer rating was 118.

During the next series, inside linebacker Karlos Dansby forced Titans running back Terrance West to fumble, and cornerback Joe Haden recovered at the 50 with 10:28 left in the first quarter. The Browns traded West to the Titans on Sept. 6 in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2016. He has lost a fumble in each of the first two games this season.

Seven plays later, Crowell ran for an 11-yard touchdown on first down, and the Browns seized a 14-0 advantage with 6:26 left in the first quarter. It was the first time the Browns scored at least 14 points in the first quarter since Week 12 of the 2010 season, according to ESPN.

The Browns' defense pitched a shutout in the first half by frequently pressuring Mariota and sacking him three times. Mariota, who threw four touchdown passes and posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3 last week in his NFL regular-season debut, completed 8-of-16 passes for 71 yards in the first half. His passer rating was 62.2.

Three plays after running back Dexter McCluster broke free for a 44-yard gain, the Titans faced third-and-3 at the Browns' 38. Then defensive lineman John Hughes and outside linebacker Paul Kruger sacked Mariota with Hughes forcing him to fumble. Inside linebacker Chris Kirksey recovered the ball at the Browns' 42 as time expired in the first quarter.

But the Browns failed to capitalize by going three-and-out for the second consecutive possession following their hot start.

The offense wasted other opportunities.

The Browns marched from their 30 to the Titans' 18 during their next possession. Coach Mike Pettine elected to go for it there on fourth-and-inches instead of summon Travis Coons for a 36-yard field goal, and the decision backfired when the Titans stuffed Manziel for no gain on a quarterback sneak.

Benjamin, though, ensured the Browns would maintain their momentum at halftime by returning Brett Kern's punt 78 yards for a touchdown with 53 seconds left in the second quarter. Benjamin caught the punt at the Browns' 22, sprinted through a hole in the middle of the field, cut to his left, ran along the Titans' sideline and hurdled Kern, who had fallen after being blocked by cornerback Pierre Desir, on his way to the end zone.

Benjamin is the first Browns player to catch a pass for a touchdown and return a punt for a touchdown in the same game since Dennis Northcutt accomplished the feat on Sept. 22, 2002.


(c)2015 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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