What changed was Cleveland's execution.
Which always brings to mind the old John McKay line when asked about his team’s execution: “I’m in favor of it.”
The Browns gave up seven points to Detroit in the first half, 24 in the second. They allowed the Lions 26 rushing yards the first half, 92 in the second. They allowed the Lions 83 passing yards the first half, 165 in the second.
That 257-yard, 24-point second half wins a lot of games, including this one, 31-17. But the Browns said the Lions didn’t change anything. They just played better and the Browns played worse.
“We just didn’t take care of our responsibilities,” safety T.J. Ward said.
That thought was echoed throughout the Browns locker room. Linebacker Paul Kruger said the Lions did nothing the Browns defense didn’t prepare for or expect.
The Lions might beg to differ. Reggie Bush said a major adjustment was made at halftime that centered on getting him more involved, especially since standout receiver Calvin Johnson was playing through a knee issue.
And the main target of the Lions offense was Browns inside linebacker Craig Robertson, who went undrafted and played outside a year ago then moved inside when the Browns switched to the 3-4 this season.
“We felt like they were stacking the box earlier in the first half,” Bush said. “They were prepared to stop the run and that was kind of their main focus. Second half we made an adjustment and felt there were some one-on-one opportunities we could take advantage of.
“One with me against 53 (Robertson). And we made it work.”
Matchups with linebackers usually don’t wind up one-sided. This one did. Because the Browns decided to play man, and when the Lions noticed they decided to put Bush in positions where Robertson would have to cover him.
At halftime Bush had seven carries with not a single pass thrown his way. In the second half he had 10 carries with six passes thrown his way. Bush’s second half: 121 total yards and a touchdown. When Bush wasn’t taking advantage of Robertson, tight ends were. Brandon Pettigrew spun away from Robertson for a key first down before Joseph Fauria caught a go-ahead 23-yard touchdown pass over … yes … Robertson, who had man-to-man coverage on the play.
“It was my fault on a lot of them,” Robertson said.
Robertson did not hide, saying “I own up to it,” especially about Bush’s plays.
It’s easy to pinpoint one guy, but in this case the Lions seemed to do just that. And it worked.