The Lions closed the preseason with an ugly 35-17 loss to the Browns. Does it matter? Justin Rogers and John Niyo of The Detroit News discuss. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Detroit — The Detroit Lions gave their starters the night off for the team’s fourth preseason game, Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns. The Lions’ backups, who were supposed to be fighting for roles and jobs, played with about as much effort, getting trounced by the Browns, 35-17.
A week ago, Detroit’s backups led an impressive comeback in Tampa Bay, but the group looked lifeless against Cleveland, allowing the Browns to score the game’s first 25 points.
"I would say from our standpoint, we obviously didn’t play very well tonight," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "We have to do a better job coaching and playing and certainly, there were some situations that came up tonight that I’m glad they came up in this game as opposed to a regular game, where we have to be really alert and ready to go with some of the transitions that took place."
The Lions continued their troubling preseason trend of struggling early on defense, allowing the Browns to score on the game’s opening possession.
Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, set the tone early with a 41-yard completion to tight end Devon Cajuste on a play-action rollout. Mayfield was sharp in the first half, completing 9-of-16 for 138 yards.
"I thought he did some really good things," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "I thought he played good, and I expected that he would. He made plays with his legs, he made plays with his arm, obviously. He led the team down to score, so that was a good game for Baker."
Rookie running back Nick Chubb took it from there, churning out 30 yards on five carries, including a three-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal, where he cut once before waltzing in through the center of the Lions' line.
The Lions went three-and-out on the ensuing possession and the Browns quickly worked their way back into the red zone when Mayfield connected with running back Matthew Dayes for 30 yards, followed by a 19-yard Dayes run around the left side. Kicker Zane Gonzalez knocked it home from 39 yards to make it 10-0.
After another ineffective offensive series for the Lions, the Browns extended their early advantage to 17 thanks to a 42-yard scoring run by Dayes. On third-and-6, the seventh-round pick from a year ago came through the heart of the defense untouched before bouncing his run to the right and outrunning Detroit’s secondary.
Recording just two first downs — both thanks to Browns penalties — Lions starter Jake Rudock was replaced by Matt Cassel at quarterback with a little more than two minutes remaining in the first half.
He immediately drove the Lions into Browns territory for the first time, connecting twice with receiver Dontez Ford for 26 and 16 yards. But on third-and-1 from Cleveland’s 30, Browns defensive end Nate Orchard jumped in front of a Cassel pass intended for tight end Hakeem Valles and returned it 64 yards for another touchdown.
The Browns went for two and converted after a pair of Lions penalties, making it 25-0 at the half.
The Lions finally got on the board early in the third quarter when Alex Barrett recovered a muffed punt at Cleveland’s 24. The offense went backward following the turnover, losing four yards on three plays before settling for a 46-yard Ryan Santoso field goal.
A Gonzalez field goal late in the third quarter pushed Cleveland’s lead back to 25, before Rudock returned to lead a seven-play, 73-yard touchdown drive for Detroit. The Lions were aided by a pair of Browns penalties — a 29-yard pass interference call and a roughing the passer.
Taking advantage of the infractions, Rudock scrambled 21 yards to Cleveland’s 4, where running back Dwayne Washington needed two carries to punch it in.
Washington was Detroit’s most productive offensive player, finishing with 67 yards on 20 carries and six receptions for another 43 yards.
"I would say he played extremely hard tonight, played tough and tried to play physical in those situations out there," Patricia said. "Obviously, we threw him out there, I would say, in a situation where we’re kind of behind and not really on top of the game and trying to control the game from that standpoint. That makes his job harder, being out there in those situations. But I think he did good of trying to go out and compete."
The Browns, not to be outdone, responded with a nine-play, 90-yard touchdown drive. Eastern Michigan alum Brogan Roback steered the Browns downfield, completing 4 of 5 passes for 92 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown to receiver Blake Jackson with seven minutes remaining.
"We had a little bit of miscommunication up at the line, so I was trying to just hurry up and snap the ball," Roback said. "Jackson ran a great route perfectly on the post and it worked out perfectly."
The fourth-quarter scoring binge concluded when Rudock capped a seven-play, 75-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Chris Lacy.
In the backup quarterback competition, Rudock finished 14-of-24 for 112 yards and the touchdown, while Cassel was 4-of-11 for 64 yards and the interception.
The Lions lost three players to injury in the game. Safety Rolan Milligan suffered a chest injury on the first defensive play and running back Zach Zenner exited a short time later with a back injury. Offensive tackle Corey Robinson’s night was ended by a foot injury.