The Rams came away with their first preseason victory on Saturday night, defeating the Browns 33-14 at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Though St. Louis could not escape Cleveland without its share of injuries, as head coach Jeff Fisher said after the game, the story remains about how well the Rams played in the penultimate exhibition contest.
“To me, this is the third preseason game. We set our sights high,” Fisher said. “I think we accomplished what we needed to accomplish tonight -- defensively, offensively, in the run game, [and] we tackled better. Obviously, we had some mistakes we have to correct, but that’s usually going to be the case in the second half of these games.”
As Fisher said, St. Louis put together one solid game of football. The time of possession and third-down numbers tell much of the tale. The Rams held the ball for nearly twice the amount of time the Browns had it -- 39:27 to 20:33 -- and converted 12 of 19 third downs -- good for 63 percent.
The big targets at wide receiver proved to be key in the first half. Kenny Britt caught a 36-yard pass from Bradford on a third-and-25 play to bring the Rams to the Cleveland 15. That drive would end with a field goal to put St. Louis ahead 3-0.
With quarterback Shaun Hill in the game, the offense again moved the ball well with a balanced attack, netting another field goal to take a 6-0 lead in the second quarter. Britt caught another long pass, this time for 32 yards to set up the Rams’ score.
“We’re definitely regular-season ready,” Britt said of the offense. “We’ve got some things to correct here and there, but I can say we’re hitting on all cylinders right now.”
Later in the quarter, quarterback Austin Davis turned an Alec Ogletree interception into points with a six-yard touchdown pass to Brian Quick that put the Rams up 13-0. The next possession, Davis connected with Chris Givens on a short route and the wide receiver took it all the way to the house for a 75-yard score. Quick finished the game with four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown, while Givens caught two for 94 yards and a touchdown.
“Our offense is explosive and I feel like we’re just getting better,” Quick said. “I’m feeling a lot more comfortable and that’s the big change, the big difference.”
The Browns scored late in the first half when Taylor Gabriel set Cleveland up with a 68-yard kickoff return to the St. Louis 37. Eight plays later, the Browns were on the board with a five-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to Andrew Hawkins, making the score 20-7.
Greg Zuerlein hit a 20-yard field goal early in the second half to make it 23-7. But then Johnny Manziel entered the game for the Browns with just over eight minutes in the third quarter, following a Davis interception. The rookie scrambled seven yards for a touchdown on third and goal at the seven, flashing his signature “money” sign to the crowd. The score cut the Rams lead to 23-14.
But that was about all the Cleveland offense could muster on Saturday night.
Zuerlein made another field goal and rookie Trey Watts added another touchdown on the ground to close out the scoring.
Of course, there were some notable injuries, including one to Sam Bradford. The quarterback left the game on the Rams’ first drive with a knee injury and did not return. Fisher said after the game that he was “optimistic” about Bradford’s situation.
“He’s upbeat, he’s fine,” Fisher said of the quarterback. “He’s walking around fine inside right now. That’s all I can tell you.”
Though there were more players who had to leave the game, Fisher declined to speculate on the severity of any individual injury.
“I cannot give you details on anybody’s situation right now, until we get back and do our tests and MRIs,” Fisher said.
What should not be lost in the shuffle is the standout performance by Davis. The quarterback completed 14 of his 22 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Other notable offensive performances included running back Benny Cunningham, who tallied 32 yards on five carries, and Watts, who ran it nine times for 36 yards and a touchdown.