Spencer Lanning was the man charged with making the decision.
Lanning is Cleveland’s punter and holder on kicks. When the Browns’ field goal unit sprinted onto the Mall of America Field in the second quarter Sunday after quarterback Brian Hoyer’s third-down pass from the Vikings 11 fell incomplete, here was the plan:
The Browns were going to move fast, get the field goal unit on quickly. They were going to line up, have tight end Jordan Cameron split wide right, and then look.
If Lanning saw Cameron guarded, it was field goal attempt as usual. But if he was open, if the Vikings managed to miss him, ignore him or in some other way not guard him, the trick play was on.
And he was open. Wide open. So Lanning took the snap, stood, threw the ball to Cameron, who caught it and got into the end zone for the score, giving Cleveland a 24-14 lead.
All Lanning was thinking? “Do not overthrow him,” he said. “We had seen some footage of a team doing a similar play and they overthrew the receiver. I did not want to be that guy.”
In a last-minute 31-27 loss to the Browns, the Vikings made several mistakes. Two of the most glaring came on special teams, which resulted in 10 Browns points.
The first came with eight minutes left in the first half. The Browns had a fourth-and-1 from their 38. They lined up in punt formation, but defensive back Josh Aubrey took the short snap and ran. The Vikings had a chance to get him, but Robert Blanton missed a play-saving tackle and Aubrey was off for 34 yards. Four plays later Billy Cundiff hit a 38-yard field goal for a 17-14 Browns lead.
After Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was intercepted two plays into the ensuing drive, Cleveland drove from the Vikings 38 to a fourth-and-4 at the 11.
Lanning to Cameron, touchdown.
“They ran the same fake last year, and the year before,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said of the fake punt. “We practiced against it this week. But we had a missed tackle.’’
And the fake field goal?
“We haven’t practiced against that, probably, for the last few weeks. But it’s something that’s in our game plan every week — we have our corners look out for any hideouts. But they got us.”
It was a crucial stretch of the game. With 10:15 left in the half Ponder’s 6-yard scoring run had tied the score 14-14. But the Browns scored the next 10 points, using trick plays in each drive.
On the fake punt, Vikings players said it was just good execution by the Browns.
“They were in base formation,” said linebacker Audie Cole. “They just pinned us down. I came over the top and got too wide, and they cut it right up in between.”
But the fake field goal? Safety Jamarca Sanford said the Browns succeeded in confusing the Vikings.
“There was a bit of a communication problem,” Sanford said. “They did a good job getting up to the line and not giving us time, and we weren’t able to get our personnel right. It was a good play by them and give them credit.”