The Browns, in soundly defeating New England 34-14 on Sunday, proved once again that they are capable of competing with the NFL's best. And on Sunday, they throttled one of the AFC's most respected teams with an offense that racked up a season-high 404 yards, held the ball for 38:08 and asserted its will from the get-go.
The star of the show was RB Peyton Hillis, who rushed for a career-high 184 yards and two TDs on 29 carries, highlighted by a 35-yard TD run to provide the Browns' final points with 2:38 left. The Browns' strategy on their final scoring drive went this way: Hillis off left guard, Hillis off right guard, Hillis off left guard, Hillis off right tackle, Hillis off left guard, Hillis off right tackle.
Rookie QB Colt McCoy again played well, too, completing 14-of-19 passes for 174 yards and rushing for his first career TD. McCoy did not throw an interception for the second consecutive game.
With McCoy playing so well, and with the Browns suddenly on a roll, the clamoring for him to be the starter continues to grow louder.
Asked whether McCoy would get another start next week, head coach Eric Mangini joked Sunday, "Can we just really enjoy this moment right here? We'll talk about it tomorrow and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday."
On Monday, Mangini said that Seneca Wallace, who started in Weeks 2-5 before suffering an ankle injury, was likely to return to practice Wednesday. Jake Delhomme, who reinjured his ankle in Week Five, also could return to practice later in the week, Mangini said.
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If Wallace indeed practices Wednesday and is healthy enough to play Sunday vs. the Jets, Mangini will be put to a decision on his starting quarterback.
On Monday, Mangini said McCoy's play made for a more difficult decision on the starting QB job.
"I was really happy with him again yesterday," Mangini said, according to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. "He's making the discussion a lot harder."
After a somewhat shaky first start vs. Kansas City, in which an interception was returned for the Chiefs' lone TD in a 16-14 Cleveland loss, Wallace fared better in his next three starts, and he was in the midst of his best performance vs. Atlanta when he suffered the ankle injury.
In his place, McCoy has staked a strong claim for the job. For starters, the Browns have a 2-1 record in his time under center, and in their lone loss in that span, the Browns competed well with the Steelers in McCoy's debut. McCoy has limited mistakes and has made some nice throws downfield in addition to the shorter throws that are the bread and butter of the Cleveland scheme. It bears noting that two of Cleveland's three most productive games on a yards-gained basis have come with McCoy at quarterback.
No matter whom the Browns line up under center, Hillis, barring injury, will be the featured back. Hillis, who now ranks seventh in the AFC in rushing with 644 yards, ranks as the Browns' top offseason acquisition, the key to their offense.
It's an attack that has been criticized at times for its lack of playmaking punch, but those concerns have subsided for now. Against the Patriots, the Browns executed one of the more creative plays you'll see this season when WR Joshua Cribbs, a former collegiate quarterback, lined up under center, took the snap and concealed a handoff to WR Chansi Stuckey, who dashed 11 yards off left end for a touchdown to put Cleveland ahead 17-7.
Yes, there is a little bit of dash in Cleveland's offense, a nice complement to the smash of Hillis, the constant of the attack no matter whom is at quarterback.