CLEVELAND - Much of the talk after the Cleveland Browns 17-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins focused on Colt McCoy's game-winning fourth quarter drive, and Mohamed Massaquoi's impressive snag in the end zone.
Almost an afterthought was that the Browns defense stopped Miami on its final drive, where it was put in a situation to lose the game.
Or that the defense held the Dolphins to four field goal attempts, despite Miami holding the ball nearly twice as long as the Cleveland's offense. Or that the defense allowed just one touchdown, set up by a Colt McCoy interception that gave the Dolphins starting field position on the Browns side of the 50.
The defense—the young, aggressive Browns defense—is what gave the Browns the chance to pull off the win and improve to 2-1 for the first time since 2002.
"The defense battled their butts off all game," McCoy said after the game. "They kept us in the game. They're the reason we won."
Much like they have done all season, the Browns defense held tough in key situations, forcing Miami to settle for field goals. The Dolphins made three trips inside the red zone and scored just once, and were forced to kick field goal attempts of 51 yards, 23 yards, 41 yards and 38 yards.
After limiting the Dolphins all game, the Browns defense once again was called upon to bail out the team.
With 43 seconds left on the clock and the game on the line, the defense did not allow the Dolphins to gain a yard on their final drive, before safety Mike Adams came up with the clinching interception on fourth down.
It was a fitting finish to a complete effort.
"They did some things that you need to do when offensively we weren't quite clicking," head coach Pat Shurmur said.
The success of the defense started up front, thanks to the play of two rookie lineman. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor and defensive end Jabaal Sheard disrupted Miami quarterback Chad Henne in the passing game, and the Browns ended up with five sacks on the day.
But it wasn't just the rookies getting the job done.
Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin had arguably the best game of all the linemen, finishing with eight tackles and 1.5 sacks, and defensive end Jayme Mitchell had 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
"The D-line was putting pressure on (Henne) sacking him and hitting him the whole game," cornerback Joe Haden said.
That pressure up front helped Haden and the secondary.
Haden was matched up all game against Dolphins top wide receiver Brandon Marshall, one of the premier receivers in the league. Haden held Marshall to four catches for 43 yards, and also kept him from scoring.
The strong performance against Marshall is the latest example of Haden shutting down an opposing team's top receiver, continuing to elevate Haden's status as one of the top emerging cornerbacks in the league.
"He had a little bit of height on Joe, but Joe battled him and he did a nice job," Shurmur said.
Haden and fellow second-year player T.J. Ward have anchored the secondary all season, keeping teams from racking up big passing play and coming up with clutch plays in key moments.
Ward helped force a fumble earlier in the game and Haden broke up a pass in the end zone to Marshall. Then, it was Adams who came up with the final interception.
"When we have our backs against the wall," Ward said, "we kind of buckle up and don't let things affect us."