The season-ending injury suffered by Kellen Winslow Jr. has gotten the big news nationally, but it was a player returning from injury that had the Cleveland Browns excited all last week.
Lee Suggs, the second-year running back from Virginia Tech, missed the first three games of the season because of a shoulder injury he suffered at the end of the preseason. But he certainly showed no ill-effects from it Sunday, rushing 22 times for 82 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland's 17-13 victory over the Washington Redskins. It was the first rushing touchdown by a Browns running back this season, and it was enough to excite even the Browns' defensive players.
Suggs's first run from scrimmage went for 25 yards. "As soon as he did that, I thought, 'Uh-oh, it's back on now,' " said defensive lineman Kenard Lang, a former Redskin. "To come off an injury and do something like that on his first play -- that was beautiful."
Browns Coach Butch Davis likened Suggs's successful return to a basketball player getting hot. He hadn't planned to call Suggs's number 22 times in his first game back. "But he got hot," Davis said. "He got hot and we kept feeding the hot hand."
And that's no small development on a team with no star wide receiver and one already missing its tight end, Winslow, whose knee injury suffered against the Cowboys two weeks ago plunged the team and the city into despair.
"He did a great job of finding the creases [in the Redskins defense]," quarterback Jeff Garcia said of Suggs's running. "He utilized the blocking of the fullback and created some positive runs. It is exciting to finally have our backfield at full strength. With William Green and Lee Suggs sharing the load, it creates a great situation for this offense."
Suggs, 24, told the coaches he wanted to play a week ago, but Davis told him no. "I did not even think about the shoulder after the first play," Suggs said. "If felt fine, so I just forgot about it. I felt normal from the get-go. As soon as I got into the game I had a few pass protections to ease me back into things. It was the first time I really ran the ball in a month. My eyes were going everywhere and I was real hyped up and excited."
Green didn't carry the ball much; he rushed only four times for 17 yards. But the Browns' coaches like the idea of pounding the ball and taking some of the pressure off Garcia, who had to throw only 21 times. He completed 14 and had a passer rating of 112.2. "I think we have the best 1-2 punch in the league at running back," Browns linebacker Kevin Bentley said. "Both could be starters. Both have ability. And the thing that works to our advantage is, how do you prepare for two guys who can do the things they can do? As a defender, I know how difficult it is to prepare for two guys."
It was difficult enough for the Redskins to prepare for Suggs alone because he hadn't played in the first three games. From now on, the Browns may look a little different on offense, as long as Green and Suggs are healthy. "We need to utilize the backs out of the backfield even more than we do," Garcia said.