Punter Dave Zastudil excelled in Cleveland’s ugly 6-3 win over Bills
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — In a game that could only be considered an instant classic on Comedy Central, leave it to punter Dave Zastudil to help secure the Cleveland Browns’ first victory of the season.
Just don’t tell the Browns that their 6-3 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday was in any way ugly.
“The way it turned out, I thought it was beautiful,” coach Eric Mangini said of his first win with Cleveland. “It’s great. It’s fantastic. I couldn’t be happier.”
Zastudil landed seven of nine punts inside the Bills 20. That included his last one, a difficult-to-pick-up roller that Roscoe Parrish muffed, allowing the Browns to take over at the Buffalo 16.
Seven plays later — and after Jamal Lewis was stopped inches from the goal line on third-and-goal from the 3 — backup kicker Billy Cundiff hit an 18-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining.
In a fitting conclusion to an error-filled game in which Browns quarterback Derek Anderson was 2 for 17 for 23 yards, Zastudil acknowledged he didn’t strike the decisive punt cleanly.
“I mis-hit it just a little bit,” Zastudil said. “But looking back, it was the best punt of the night because they fumbled it.”
Cleveland (1-4) snapped a 10-game losing streak, one short of matching the franchise worst, the same week the team traded star receiver Braylon Edwards to the New York Jets. The Browns’ last win was 29-27, also at the Bills, on Nov. 17, 2008.
It’s impossible to know whether Edwards could have helped in a game that lived down to its billing as a Misery Loves Company Bowl.
Buffalo (1-4) has now lost 12 of 15, including consecutive games to winless teams following a 38-10 defeat at Miami. Its offense continues to look anemic and coach Dick Jauron’s back on the hot seat.
“I don’t know — that’s not a question to ask me,” Jauron said of his job status.
Bills owner Ralph Wilson was in attendance, but did not address reporters after the game. General manager Russ Brandon declined to comment on Jauron.
“Obviously, this is a low point for the organization and the fan base,” Brandon said. “This is not where we expected to be right now.”
Receiver Lee Evans shook his head when asked if he believes Jauron will be fired.
“I hope not,” Evans said. “That’s not going to solve anything.”
Penalties cost the Bills. They were flagged 13 times for 75 yards — including a whopping nine false-start violations.
Linebacker Marcus Buggs was penalized for jumping the snap to sack Anderson on a third-and-7. On the next play, Joshua Cribbs had a 31-yard gain to set up Cundiff’s 24-yard field goal that opened the scoring.
Parrish had a tough day, too. Aside from his fumble, he made the wrong decision in fielding a punt at his own 42 on the final play of the third quarter. With his path blocked up the right sideline, Parrish instead reversed course and wound up losing 15 yards.
Rian Lindell provided the Bills’ only scoring, tying the game at 3 with a 36-yard field goal early in the third quarter.
Trent Edwards finished 16 of 31 for 152 yards and an interception, his fifth in three games. For an offense that features Evans and Terrell Owens, Edwards has not thrown for more than 200 yards in each of his past three outings.
The Browns’ passing attack was even worse. Anderson had an interception and registered a 15.1 passer rating in his second straight start. The Browns managed nine first downs and 193 yards of offense. They were led by Lewis, who had 117 yards rushing on 31 carries in his first game back after missing two with a hamstring injury.
“A win’s a win,” said Anderson, noting that the swirling winds inside the stadium didn’t help. “I knew it was going to be a grind. You could tell. It was hard to throw.”
The Browns couldn’t take advantage of a Bills defense that was already without four starters due to injuries and lost two middle linebackers during the game. Starter Kawika Mitchell was carted off in the second quarter with a right knee injury. Buggs took over and was carted off after hurting his left leg in the third.
Zastudil played a key role in bottling up the Bills offense. He had two punts downed at the Buffalo 1 and another at the 4.
“Special teams, we really came through for this football team,” Cribbs said. “The defense held their side, and Jamal Lewis took care of the rest.”
The Browns’ two completions are the fewest for a winning team since the Bengals did it in a 31-21 win over Denver on Oct. 22, 2000. Corey Dillon had 278 of the Bengals’ 407 yards rushing. Akili Smith went 2 of 9 for 34 yards and Scott Mitchell missed all five attempts.