Derek Anderson threw three touchdown passes, two to Braylon Edwards, and the Browns erased an early 14-point deficit in a 27-20 victory over the winless and injury-riddled St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Anderson had three touchdown passes, five interceptions and a lowly 58.1 passer rating in the Browns’ first two games on the road, setbacks at Oakland and New England.
Edwards tied his career best with eight catches for 117 yards.
“If I tie my career high, whoop-dee-doo, the big thing is we got the win,” Edwards said. “We’ve got our heads above water for the first time in a long time.”
The Browns’ defense made two big plays in the final two minutes. Safety Sean Jones stopped Brian Leonard for no gain on 4th-and-1 from the 16 and Leigh Bodden picked off Marc Bulger at the Cleveland 28 with 38 seconds left.
“I had his leg and wouldn’t let go,” Jones said of his stop. “I thought everyone else was coming, but he dragged me for a little while.”
The long-struggling Browns (4-3) matched their win total from last season and have won consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 5 and 6 of the 2003 season, 64 games ago. Not counting Cleveland’s win in the 2004 opener, the Browns are above .500 for the first time since finishing the 2002 season 9-7.
Steven Jackson’s return from a groin injury briefly energized the Rams (0-8), who scored on their first two possessions, but he left again due to lower back spasms in the second quarter. Jackson said he was compensating for the groin, which is still not totally healed.
“It’s not an injury that keeps you out for weeks,” Jackson said. “I wish it had happened in practice rather than in a game, but the body is funny like that.”
“He was running like a wild beast and we matched his intensity, it just rubbed off on the whole team,” tight end Randy McMichael said. “And then he’s out and we took a step back. We can’t do that.”
Still, the Browns had to hang on.
“We didn’t adjust very well because they still moved the ball down the field,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “If he had been able to stay in there, it could have been a different outcome.”
Bulger threw his first touchdown pass since Week 2 but missed time with a sprained right thumb in the second half and fell short on a pair of late chances to force overtime.
Torry Holt had six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown for the Rams, whose start is a franchise worst by two losses.
They lost another lineman when guard Richie Incognito sprained his right knee in the first quarter, crippling their running game. They began the game with only one opening-day starter Alex Barron, and he’s not at his original position after moving from right tackle to the left side after Orlando Pace’s season-ending shoulder injury in the opener.
The game was the second of four home games to be blacked out locally because it didn’t sell out. Announced attendance of 62,777 was about 3,000 shy of capacity.
Although Edwards dropped an easy grab for a first down with 1:37 to go that would have enabled the Browns to run out the clock, he reached 100 yards receiving for the seventh time in his career and third time this year. All was forgotten after Bodden’s game-clinching interception.
“They single-covered T.O., they single-covered Steve Smith,” Edwards said. “We knew what they were going to do and we took advantage of it.”
Edwards scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 5-yard catch in the third quarter to put the Browns ahead 24-17. The Browns drove 80 yards on the opening possession of the second half, during which they overcame four penalties for 25 yards and converted three third downs.
Overall, the Browns were flagged 14 times for 102 yards.
Joe Jurevicius had the big catch of the drive, a 24-yarder on third-and-17 to the St. Louis 45. Jurevicius had a season-high five receptions for 76 yards.
After totaling nine points with no touchdowns the previous two weeks, the Rams came out firing and reached the end zone on their first two drives against the porous Cleveland defense. Holt beat Bodden on a fly pattern for a 38-yard gain on the game’s first play.
Jackson had four carries for 31 yards on the opening possession capped by his first score of the year on a 2-yard run. Holt’s 1-yard catch in the back of the end zone made it 14-0 with about five minutes to go in the first quarter.
Then the Browns found their footing, taking the lead on a pair of touchdown passes by Anderson to Edwards and Kellen Winslow, before the Rams tied it at 17 on Jeff Wilkins’ 40-yard field goal with 4 seconds left in the half.
Browns LB D’Qwell Jackson (ankle) and his backup Kris Griffin (Achilles tendon) both were knocked out in the first half, although coach Romeo Crennel was hopeful both would be back next week. … Incognito is optimistic about an MRI scheduled for Monday, and believes he’ll be ready to play after the Rams’ upcoming bye. … Browns RB Jamal Lewis, who missed virtually all of the last two games with an injured right foot, had 61 yards on 17 carries. … Cleveland started 3-3 in both 2003 and 2004, but went 5-11 and 4-12.