Quarterback Kelly Holcomb, with help from Tampa Bay miscues, directed Cleveland's winning scoring drive.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CLEVELAND -- For 27 minutes of the first half, the dismal offense that haunted Browns fans the past two seasons took center stage at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
But once quarterback Kelly Holcomb's second unit entered Saturday's exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, sparks eventually flew.
Thanks to several costly Buccaneer penalties, Holcomb generated an 80-yard scoring drive that put Cleveland ahead, 7-6, a score that held up after a scoreless second half.
Against one of the NFL's best defensive units, the first-team Browns offense did little right, posting no first downs while falling behind 6-0.
Quarterback Tim Couch completed 2-of-6 passes for 4 yards. Running back James Jackson gained 12 yards on seven carries.
No offense: Neither team showed much offense during their first two drives. Tampa Bay's only standout play came when quarterback Brad Johnson tossed a screen pass to Warrick Dunn for an 11-yard gain.
The Browns had less to celebrate. Jackson broke through the Buccaneers' line for an 8-yard pickup for the Browns only decent pickup.
"We did some things better offensively and defensively, but we are still making mistakes that are costing us opportunities," Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy said.
On their third possession, the Bucs asserted themselves by generating a scoring drive. First, Dunn spun free for a 12-yard pickup to the Bucs' 43.
Three plays later, Johnson fired from the shotgun formation and hit an unguarded wideout Reidel Anthony for a 21-yard pickup. Defensive back Rashidi Barnes recovered in time to force Anthony out of bounds.
That completion set up Martin Gramatica's 43-yard field goal late in the first quarter.
"Our first team defense played sharp and our first team offense did some good things moving the ball downfield," Dungy said. "But we are still making some penalties that are hurting us."
Turnover: The Browns responded with the game's first turnover as Couch's pass attempt to wide receiver Kevin Johnson was tipped and intercepted by safety Dexter Jackson at the Browns 41.
Four plays later, Gramatica booted his second field goal from 58 yards out for a 6-0 lead nine seconds into the second quarter.
"It felt solid coming off my foot, but I credit my teammates," Gramatica said. "I had a lot of good protection up front, a good snap, a good hold and it just went through the uprights. But it's only one kick, so I can't relax."
Johnson completed seven of 13 attempts for 43 yards. Dunn gained 24 yards on seven carries while Aaron Stecker had 28 of five carries.
The Browns' best play on defense came when defensive back Anthony Henry intercepted a Shaun King pass intended for wide receiver Frank Murphy in the end zone.
That turnover set up Holcomb's drive, a series that appeared to end as another three-and-out series. Defensive errors kept the Browns alive.
Bumbles: First, the Bucs' bench was penalized 15 yards on a third-and-13 play for interfering with a sideline official.
Then on a third-and-three, Bucs defensive end Ron Warner jumped offsides.
Holcomb's next pass was picked off by Buccaneers free safety Dexter Jackson, but penalties on each side negated the play.
Holcomb caught fire, hitting tight end O.J. Santiago for a nine-yard gain to midfield for the Browns' first earned first down.
Holcomb followed that with passes to Santiago covering 16 and 13 yards, and then a nine-yarder to wide receiver Lenzie Jackson to the Browns 12.
Another pass to Jackson moved the Browns to the 6. Following an incompletion, Holcomb dumped the ball to running back Travis Prentice at the 2. Prentice lunged for the end zone, but was ruled down at the 1 before the ball crossed into the end zone.
Touchdown: On third-and-goal with seven seconds to go, Holcomb found H-back Aaron Shea in the middle of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.
Phil Dawson's extra-point boot put Cleveland ahead, 7-6.
Neither offense came close to scoring in the third quarter.
Ryan Leaf, the Charger flameout who was the second pick of the 1998 NFL draft, took over for King, completing three of seven passes for 28 yards.
Holcomb led one series for the Browns before giving way to Ty Detmer, who put the Browns in scoring position early in the fourth quarter. But placekicker hopeful Francesco Biancamano was wide right on a 43-yard field goal attempt with 10:20 to go.
Late in the quarter, quarterback Spergon Wynn took the Browns to the 25, but Dawson's 42-yard field-goal attempt went left.
Tampa Bay linebacker Mark Cerqua separated his shoulder in the first quarter. Center Jeff Christy sprained his left knee in the second quarter.
Browns center Jim Bundren hyperextended his elbow early in the third quarter.