The Cleveland Browns entered Sunday's game looking to pick up another upset victory in what has been an up-and-down 2010 season, and came away with a hard-fought win.
On the other side of the football, the Miami Dolphins were in dire need of a home win in order to stay in the thick of the playoff race, but could do little against a Browns defense that came ready to play.
In a game that featured few big offensive plays, a couple of missed field goals and a lot of punts, it was the Cleveland defense that ended up being the difference-maker as Mike Adams' interception at the final minute set up Phil Dawson's game-winning field goal.
To the Dolphins' credit, Miami did a good job of shutting down budding superstar Peyton Hillis but, in what could be a sign of a maturing young team, the Browns found another way to win.
For once, quarterback Jake Delhomme took good care of the football, though Delhomme was fortunate that a poorly thrown pass resulted in a dropped interception that could have sealed the game.
The story of the day, however, is the defense of the Cleveland Browns, a unit that has seen its share of highs and lows in 2010. The Cleveland defense held a Miami team that dropped 33 on Oakland last week to a mere 10 points, and three timely interceptions may have shut the door on the Dolphins' diminishing playoff hopes.
Relishing a starring role for the Browns was rookie cornerback Joe Haden. Haden is quickly proving to be an excellent draft pick and possibly a future Pro Bowl talent. Haden was consistently around the football throughout the game and finished with five total tackles and an interception, his fourth in as many consecutive games.
However, it was Haden's blanket coverage and several passes defended that really showed why he is truly a star in the making.
Also making his presence felt was fellow rookie T.J. Ward. The former Oregon safety is known for his bone-crunching hits and ability to quickly flow to the football. His 87 total tackles entering Sunday lead all rookies.
It is starting to look like the duo of Haden and Ward in the secondary could be one of the best rookie tandems to come out of college in recent memory.
Also, give a tip of your cap to defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, whose impact in the game far outweighs his stat line which simply reads three tackles and one sack. Rogers consistently put pressure on Chad Henne, and his blocked field goal ended up being the margin of victory for Cleveland.
Much of the credit must also go to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan who seems to get the most out of a defensive unit that doesn't have a lot of playmakers. It has been speculated as of late that Ryan could be considered for a head coaching job very soon, mostly due to his comments that he would really like to be an NFL head coach.
Well, duh, who wouldn't?
Until the Browns are able to put up this kind of defensive performance week in and week out, I wouldn't seriously put Ryan in the mix for a head coaching position, but he deserves praise for this win and for keeping the Browns in ballgames.
It is very fitting that such a defensive game ended up being decided by a turnover, and it is a very telling victory for the Cleveland Browns. Teams that find different ways to win usually have staying power, and that is just the type of identity that the Browns are trying to establish.
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