The Cleveland Browns have fallen flat twice in 2014, and this time it cost them the division lead...for now. Despite being without RB Arian Foster and having QB Ryan Mallett making his first career start, the Houston Texans defeated the Browns by a final score of 23-7.
The Texans got off to a good start to the game as Mallett led the Texans down the field and found DE J.J. Watt for a 2-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to take a 7-0 lead. Cleveland battled their way back into things in the second quarter, thanks to a pair of roughing the punter penalties on Watt. QB Brian Hoyer made the Texans pay, connecting with WR Andrew Hawkins for a 32-yard touchdown to tie things up at 7-7.
The Browns were putting together a solid offensive drive near the end of the second quarter, but inside the red zone, RB Isaiah Crowell was stripped of the football and Watt recovered. Mallett then led the Texans down the field for a touchdown pass to TE Garrett Graham before the end of the half. The Crowell fumble was without a doubt the turning point of the game -- what could have been a 14-7 lead for Cleveland was instead a 14-7 lead for Houston.
In the second half, the Browns couldn't do anything right and Houston ran the ball down the throat of a Cleveland defense that lost linebackers Karlos Dansby and Jabaal Sheard to injury. Rookie running back Alfred Blue had 36 carries for 156 yards.
Hoyer finished the game 20-of-50 (40%) for 330 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Hoyer didn't have his best day, but this was a complete effort of disarray, with Watt disrupting plays left and right, receivers dropping passes, and Crowell's key fumble. Up next, Cleveland takes on the Falcons on the road...but the negatives of this game will quickly be washed away from a public relations standpoint because WR Josh Gordon will be returning to action.
The Browns now fall behind the Bengals for first place in the AFC North, but are still within striking distance. Teams are going to face these bumps in the road, and we've seen this team respond to adversity before.
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