CLEVELAND, AUG. 25 -- Jeff Rutledge's debut was impressive, Gerald Riggs shook loose for a big run and the Washington Redskins tonight won their second straight preseason game by defeating the Cleveland Browns, 31-13, in front of 62,444 at Cleveland Stadium.
They accepted the result, congratulated themselves and reminded each other that a victory is a victory is a victory. But this was an odd one, and it will be examined more closely during a long Sunday film session at Redskin Park.
This was one the Redskins (2-1) could look at from several different angles, including some that may remind them of the offensive problems of the past two weeks.
They scored 21 of their 31 points in a fourth quarter in which both teams were running patchwork offenses and defenses. They certainly were happy with the outcome, especially with Rutledge, who trotted off the bench and directed a 95-yard scoring drive.
He hooked up with Gary Clark on a 44-yard play the first time he touched the ball, and three plays later found Clark on a 40-yard touchdown pass. Rutledge completed four of five passes for 106 yards for the night. Not bad numbers for someone who was carrying his right arm in a sling three weeks ago.
"Boy, it was good to be back out there," he said. "When you're a backup quarterback, you need your playing time in preseason because you might not get much in the regular season. I was really happy to get in there."
The next time Rutledge got the ball he made another big play, shoving the ball into Riggs's gut and watching as Riggs bounced inside, then outside and outraced cornerback Tony Blaylock to the end zone for a 72-yard touchdown. Walter Stanley's 22-yard punt return set up the final Washington score, which James Wilder jammed in from one yard away with 1:53 left.
But all of that action came in the fourth quarter after the Redskins had a difficult night against the Cleveland starters. They ran just four plays in a first quarter when the Browns had 109 yards and held the Redskins to six. A Cleveland turnover helped the Redskins to a 10-3 halftime lead and those 10 points were all they had through three quarters.
"It's really hard to judge," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We'll have to go home look at the films and see who was in there. Offensively, we still sputtered around. We can't get carried away with a game like this. I'm happy we won and happy for some of the players."
But there was more than a little good news. They withstood Bernie Kosar and the Browns in a first half when they allowed 169 yards but made enough big plays to take a lead.
What they had until the fourth quarter was another big defensive effort from end Charles Mann and others, an important fumble recovery from kicker Chip Lohmiller and a nifty 12-yard touchdown run from former Browns back Earnest Byner.
Quarterback Mark Rypien recovered from a bad week to complete five of eight passes for 78 yards, and backup Stan Humphries completed three of five for 53.
After gaining 117 yards on the ground in their first two preseason games, the Redskins had 151 on the ground and 388 in all. Riggs gained 105 yards on eight carries.
"We've got to do a better job controlling the ball," Riggs said. "We've got a lot of work to do. I was glad I could step up there and get something out of this night."
He might have closed the gap between himself and starter Byner, who gained 18 yards on seven carries.
"We're not running it like we should yet," Byner said. "I know that. I think early in the game they were doing some defensive things that stopped us. They weren't running the same defenses later in the game. I don't know. I know we have the personnel to run the ball. We just have to get with it."
Kosar played a half and completed nine of 16 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. He was unstoppable early, opening the game by taking the Browns on a 60-yard drive that ended with Matt Bahr missing a 37-yard field goal.
Kosar was hit on the right forearm by a helmet in the first half and had the arm wrapped to reduce swelling, but the injury was not serious. Later Browns backup fullback Tim Manoa suffered a dislocated left elbow. He will be out at least four weeks.
The Redskins ran three plays and punted and Kosar ripped right through the defense again, going 49 yards and giving Bahr another chance. He missed this time from 40 yards.
Rypien then led the Redskins on a 72-yard drive for a field goal. Washington safety Brad Edwards knocked the ball out of Kerry Simien's hands on the following kickoff, Lohmiller fell on it and Byner promptly scored his touchdown. The Redskins had a 10-0 lead and would never trail.
"This one left a bad taste in everyone's mouth," said Browns Coach Bud Carson whose team lost for the third time in four preseason games. "It was as poorly as we have ever played defensively in the second half. We didn't tackle well at all, which shows you're just going through the motions. It was embarrassing to get blown out like that."
The Redskins took a 10-3 lead to the locker room at the end of a half in which the Browns ran 36 plays, compared to 14 for the Redskins. The Browns had 169 yards total offense compared to 100 for the visitors.
Rypien, who missed his first three passes, got hot on the drive for the field goal, hitting Art Monk for 14 yards and Ricky Sanders for 32 and 28.
With cornerback Frank Minnifield still holding out, the Browns are hoping veteran Raymond Clayborn can fill in but Sanders twice victimized him. On third and nine from the 10, Rypien hit Kelvin Bryant for five yards. Lohmiller kicked the field goal for a 3-0 lead with 10:40 left in the first half.
The Redskins were called for being offsides on the kickoff and on the second kickoff, Edwards separated return man Simien from the ball. Lohmiller, who had sprinted down the field behind the play, jumped on the ball at the 12.
Byner needed one play, twisting in and out, cartwheeling over safety Falanda Newton at the 4 and getting into the end zone. It was a special moment for Byner, who spent his first five seasons in Cleveland. He heaved a mighty celebration spike.
"The message in that spike?" Byner asked, smiling. "The message was that I was happy. I needed a good run. We needed one."
Both coaches turned the game over to their second- and third-teamers in the third quarter and the game became a swirl of penalties and missed plays. Jerry Kauric's 47-yard field goal was the only scoring of the third quarter. The incumbent Bahr might take heed since Kauric is now seven for seven in the preseason.
Rutledge took over at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the Redskins at their own 5 and his first pass was the 44-yarder to Clark. He missed his second pass but Riggs picked up 10 yards and then one more. Next Rutledge lofted the ball down the left sideline to Clark, who had run behind cornerback Randy Hilliard.
Clark's third catch of the night was a 40-yard touchdown pass and the Redskins had a 17-6 lead. Clark's first three catches went for 97 yards. The Redskins had 100 yards for the entire first half, but Rutledge needed only 2:36 to get them an additional 95.
"I didn't think we'd be on the five," Rutledge said, "but we had a perfect pass called. They were in exactly the right coverage."
Backup quarterback Pat Ryan got the Browns into position to score, but Pat Swoopes stripped Ryan of the ball. Rookie defensive tackle Kent Wells recovered at the 28 and Rutledge's next play was another big one.
He handed the ball to Riggs, who bounced into the right side of the line, got blocks from Ray Brown and Ron Middleton, bounced outside and raced 72 yards with Blaylock chasing him the final 40. That gave the Redskins a 24-6 lead with 8:11 remaining.
"I wasn't going to let a defensive back run me down," Riggs said. "I didn't want people to say I'm old."