Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Three Defensive Plays Determine the Outcome for Browns, Redskins, and Cavs Games This Week

During the first week of the NFL season, and first week of D1 play for UVA, three remarkable defensive plays changed the outcome of my favorite teams’ games.

After redeeming themselves last week by defeating William and Mary in the season opener, Virginia travelled to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers. After going up 23-3 in the third quarter, the Cavaliers gave up 28 unanswered points to a program that has only been to one bowl game in 18 seasons. The Hoos answered with a 15 play drive to tie the game at 31-31 with under two minutes left. After a couple of ineffective plays, IU lined up for a third down and five on their own 23 with only a half a minute until overtime: (skip to the :36 mark):

Senior defensive end Cam Johnson comes around the end and not only sacks the QB, but strips the football and recovers the fumble with one hand…all before hitting the ground! A couple plays later, Robert Randolph hits a 23 yard FG with seconds left. Victory!

"In the past, we probably would have given up or tucked and said, 'Oh, what the heck.' But these guys just kept on playing,” Coach Mike London said. “And in the end we just made more plays than they made, and the play that Cam Johnson made was unbelievable."

Meanwhile on Sunday, the Browns opened their season at home against a similarly underdog opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals. Up 17-13 in the fourth quarter, Cleveland had already knocked out the Bengals starting QB and were a couple stops or turnover away from sealing the victory. With under five minutes left, Cincinnati put together a drive to move into Browns’ territory but were facing a third down and eleven (right click on picture to open play in new window):

Backup QB Bruce Gradkowski quick snaps the ball and finds rookie WR AJ Green wide open for his first NFL reception for a 41 yard score. Not only was the defense caught off guard, but they had 12 men on the field as well! Stunned by the sudden deficit, the Cleveland offense responded with 25 yards, seven incompletions and an interception on their final three drives combined as the Bengals offense later sealed the win with a 39 yard touchdown run.

“They caught the whole organization asleep on that one,” linebacker Scott Fujita said Monday. “We were all responsible,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “Which includes me.”

Later in the afternoon, the Redskins faced bitter rival New York Giants, which had won the previous six meetings. In a back and forth matchup, the teams came out of the locker room at half time tied 14-14 and the Giants started with the ball. New York quickly faced a third down and ten from the shadow of their own goal line minutes into the second half:

Rookie defensive end Ryan Kerrigan avoids the chop block by the right tackle and picks off Eli Manning’s quick screen attempt and rumbles into the end zone breaking the tie. While there was still almost a full half remaining in the game, the defensive touchdown set the tone for the rest of the game. Washington’s defense caused four sacks and three 3-and-outs, while only allowing four New York first downs and 93 yards for the rest of the half, clinching a 28-14 victory.

“He has great awareness for a big guy,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said of Kerrigan. “He made a great play, got to score a touchdown, and that’s all she wrote.”

Three separate third down defensive plays determined the outcome of my three favorite teams this weekend. While I hope Cam Johnson and Ryan Kerrigan’s performances are a glimpse of more things to come this season, first year Browns head coach Pat Shurmur better learn fast before the schedule gets tougher later in the season.

Quotes and Further Reading:

Cam Johnson Saves the Day for Virginia

Browns Regroup After Snap Blunder

Washington Rookie Ryan Kerrigan Breaks the Game Open

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