Cleveland sees better days ahead after beating Giants

Published 2:16 am Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Through weeks of frustration, injuries and a near-quarterback change, the Cleveland Browns never lost hope in this season.

On Monday night, they may have saved it.

With quarterback Derek Anderson outplaying Eli Manning, Braylon Edwards making big catches and Eric Wright returning an interception 94 yards for a touchdown, the Browns won on Monday night for the first time since 1993, ending New York’s 11-game road winning streak with a 35-14 win over the defending Super Bowl champions.

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Anderson, whose job was in serious jeopardy just a few weeks ago and may have been down to one more loss, threw one of his two touchdown passes to Edwards, who announced his team’s return to the NFL’s prime-time weekday slot by performing a cartwheel and back flip during pregame introductions and then making the Giants look foolish.

In their first four games, the Browns (2-3) had shown no signs of living up to high expectations following a 10-6 season. They had dropped their first two games at home, lost three in a row overall and only a win over winless Cincinnati to show so far in 2008.

Now, they’ve got something to brag about.

‘‘This is us,’’ Anderson said. ‘‘These were the guys who made plays all last season.’’

Anderson finished 18-for-29 for 310 yards, Edwards caught five passes for a career-high 154 yards and Jamal Lewis scored on a 4-yard run for the Browns, who handed the Giants (4-1) their first loss, leaving the Tennessee Titans as the NFL’s only unbeaten team.

Manning was picked off three times and the Giants, so dominant through their first four games, were roughed up by the Browns.

In the closing minutes, Browns fans chanted ‘‘Over-rated’’ at the high-profile New Yorkers.

Aside from some more silly penalties, the Browns were superior to the Giants, who had reeled off 11 straight wins — 12 counting the Super Bowl — outside of New Jersey since Week 1 last season. But Manning was not himself and New York, which embarrassed Cleveland during the exhibition season, missed an opportunity to open a two-game lead in the brutal NFC East.

‘‘I threw three interceptions,’’ Manning said. ‘‘That’s unacceptable. That’s not the way we win games. You’re going to lose a game every once in a while, but we don’t like the way we played. That’s what’s disappointing.’’

Edwards’ 11-yard TD reception on the first play of the fourth quarter gave the Browns a 27-14 lead, and he punctuated it with a reverse dunk over the goal post. The score capped an 87-yard drive which was bogged down by five Cleveland penalties. In all, the Browns went 117 yards on the drive.

‘‘Forward, backward, forward, backward,’’ said tight end Steve Heiden, who had five catches while starting for injured Pro Bowler Kellen Winslow. ‘‘At least we got in there.’’

The Giants then drove to the Cleveland 9, but on second-and-4, Manning locked onto wide receiver Amani Toomer, allowing Wright time to dart in front, make the interception and tiptoe down the sideline to the end zone. It was a satisfying turn for Wright, who was burned twice by the Giants during the Aug. 18 matchup.

‘‘He held the ball a little longer and that allowed me to make a play,’’ Wright said. ‘‘I tried to give myself some room so I could stay in bounds and I lucked out.’’

While Browns fans danced in the aisles, Anderson hit Edwards for the 2-point conversion to put the Browns ahead by 21.

‘‘This springboards us into our second season,’’ Edwards said. ‘‘The first three losses are over. We have 11 games left to play like we did tonight.’’

Manning went 18-of-28 for 196 yards and threw a 22-yard TD pass to Plaxico Burress, who was back after serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules.

Moments after New York went up 7-3 on Brandon Jacobs’ 7-yard run, Edwards turned cornerback Aaron Ross around with a nice outside fake and hauled in a 70-yard pass from Anderson to set up Cleveland’s first TD, a 4-yard run by Lewis.

On the Browns’ next possession, Anderson put together his best-looking drive of the season. Given time to throw, he made all the correct reads and went 5-for-5 for 74 yards, threading a 22-yard TD pass over the middle to backup tight end Darnell Dinkins to give Cleveland a 17-7 halftime lead.

Manning countered with an 80-yard scoring drive — helped by a critical Cleveland penalty — to pull the Giants within 17-14. From the 3, he lofted a perfect TD pass to Burress, who easily ran past defensive back Terry Cousin. Three plays earlier, Manning had been sacked and fumbled on third down, but Browns safety Mike Adams was called for illegal contact, giving New York a first down.

Browns defensive end Corey Williams had provided the Giants with some bulletin-board material leading into the game. Williams, who was with Green Bay last season and lost to New York in the NFC title game, had said Cleveland’s defense planned to ‘‘hit him (Jacobs) in the mouth’’ and that ‘‘their ain’t nothing physical’’ about the Giants’ offensive line.

Williams also said he was going to try to knock Jacobs’ head off, remarks that were prominently displayed on the back pages of New York’s tabloid newspapers.

After Jacobs barreled through several Cleveland defenders for his TD early in the second quarter, he jawed with Williams.

It was the Browns, though, who got the last word.

Notes: Cleveland did not punt for the first time since 1995. … Lewis (9,428) had 88 yards and passed Hall of Famer Earl Campbell for 25th on the career rushing list. … Giants LB Antonio Pierce injured his quadriceps in the first quarter but returned. … The Browns improved to 13-13 on Monday night.