CLEVELAND: The turning point of the Browns 30-7 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday was supposed to be in the form of a blocked punt.
Instead, the Browns turned the special-teams trick play into a record-setting punt return, when rookie Travis Benjamin ran 93 yards for a touchdown to open the second quarter.
“It was a huge lift,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said.
Just before the Browns’ special-teams unit took the field, kicker Phil Dawson alerted the team’s sideline reporter, Jamir Howerton, that the Browns had something up their sleeve.
“It was a special one that [special teams] coach [Chris] Tabor had drawn up this week,” Dawson said. “That was awesome to watch and fun to finally see us get one in the end zone.”
The play, dubbed “Bonsai,” calls for Cribbs and Benjamin to trade spots before the ball is snapped. Cribbs sprinted up the middle of the field from his usual return spot to help bring more pressure on Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt, Benjamin shifted backward to field the punt.
When Benjamin caught the ball at the 7-yard line, the Chiefs’ gunner was pushed past by Buster Skrine. Another defender, Josh Bellamy, dove at Benjamin’s ankles near the 15-yard line but missed.
“He’s the fastest man I’ve ever seen,” Browns running back Trent Richardson said. “With his speed, he gets an edge and he’s gone.”
Benjamin avoided more traffic when he cut back near the Browns’ 27-yard line and continued sprinting up the sideline. Cribbs did his part by scaring Colquitt out of bounds and a final spring block by Johnson Bademosi knocked the Chiefs’ Terrance Copper to the ground near the 5-yard line.
“The punter saw me about to come and he just opened the gate like, ‘I ain’t got nothing to do with that,’ ” Cribbs said.
Using both the veteran-savvy Cribbs and rookie speedster Benjamin together on returns is a pick-your-poison dilemma in its own right. But adding the twist of changing their positions added a stroke of genius designed especially for the Chiefs.
“It schemed up perfect,” Cribbs said. “They’re a man-scheme team on their punt coverage. We had guys coming across the ball and they had guys leave their post to come chase the guy. … Because we had so many guys in the hole, they had to stay in to protect and weren’t able to get out on the punt. That’s why [Benjamin] was able to catch the ball with nobody in his face, because they were all at the line.”
Not only did the trick play go into the record books replacing Eric Metcalf’s 92-yarder in 1994 as the longest punt return in team history, but Benjamin also became the first Browns rookie to return a punt for a touchdown since Ben Davis had a 52-yarder for a touchdown in 1967.
“It’s a very dangerous duo with me and Cribbs back there,” Benjamin said. “We knew that their special teams [players] and their coaches who were here were scared of Cribbs, so we built up this scheme all week and it worked perfectly.”
In the third quarter, another trick play involving Cribbs nearly resulted in immediate success as the Browns shook the dust off their old wildcat formation. Lining up at quarterback on first-and-10 at the 18-yard line, Cribbs took off running to his left. Just as he neared the left goal-line pylon, linebacker Cory Greenwood tackled him by the legs and dragged him down at the 1.
Cribbs, as well as the Browns’ coaches upstairs in the booth, thought he might have gotten the ball across the goal line, prompting coach Pat Shurmur to challenge the play. The ruling stood, but the point was moot when Richardson scored on a goal-line plunge on the next play.
“They didn’t get the right angle, Coach,” a hobbled Cribbs said after the game to offensive coordinator Brad Childress as the two passed each other on the way out of the locker room.
“You were close,” Childress said. “And we got it anyway.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.