CLEVELAND -- Wide receiver and Ohio native Brian Hartline had a brief pregame meeting Sunday with another Ohio native who once made his living catching passes for the Dolphins.
Hartline and Hall of Famer Paul Warfield, both graduates of Ohio State, spoke for just a short time before the Dolphins opened their season with a lackluster 23-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns in front of 71,513 fans in FirstEnergy Stadium.
Warfield, who caught 156 passes and scored 33 touchdowns for the Dolphins from 1970 to 1974 and caught 271 passes for 52 touchdowns in two stints with the Browns, served as Cleveland’s alumni captain for Sunday’s game.
“I asked him who he was going to root for,” Hartline said of Warfield, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982. “He said it was going to be hard. He’s an Ohio guy, an Ohio State guy and I talk to him a lot.”
On Sunday, Hartline played a little like him. The fifth-year pro, who grew up about 60 miles from Cleveland in Canton, played a key role in the win.
Targeted 15 times by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, he caught nine passes for a game-best 114 yards. That included a 34-yard touchdown that gave the Dolphins the lead for good at 13-7 with 6:46 left in the third quarter.
“It’s always nice to come back to Cleveland and play some good football when it counts,” he said.
Hartline also had a big hand in Miami’s game-clinching, fourth-quarter drive that culminated with a 1-yard plunge by Daniel Thomas that put the Dolphins in front 20-10 with 6:48 to play.
Hartline, coming off a career year in which he caught 74 passes for 1,083 yards, hauled in three Tannehill passes for 33 yards on that drive, which started at the Miami 15 and consumed more than five minutes.
“I think it was just a situation where we knew we just needed to have it,” he said. “I wish we would have done it earlier in the game, but it was a situation where we needed to make some plays. It was coming down to crunch time. Ryan did good job of placing the ball, and the offensive line did a good job of protecting. We just started to jell.”
Hartline was the integral part of a six-player receiving corps that caught 24 passes for 272 yards, significant because the Dolphins could muster just 20 yards on 23 rushing plays.
“I just try to do my part,” he said, slipping on a rust-colored sportcoat over a white shirt and gold tie. “I think we started slow as an offense. We could have definitely gotten off to a better start. I was just there when the team needed us to move the chains and to move the ball.”
Despite the success of the passing game, Hartline gave himself and his cohorts a grade of B-minus.
Why so harsh?
“Because it wasn’t good enough,” he said bluntly. “We kept stalling out. It was Game 1, and we’re hoping to grow.”
He also had some harsh words for the running game.
“I think anyone will tell you that we weren’t overly happy with our running game,” he said. “It has to improve. Any time [the other team does] a good job of stopping the running game you rely too much on the passing game. We were successful, but we weren’t breaking through and getting long drives.”
Hartline’s touchdown came on a second-and-6 play and was set up when Brandon Gibson jump-started the drive with a 12-yard reception.
“We took advantage of some plays that we were able to run earlier, get some double moves in, and it worked out,” he said.