Tight end Troy Niklas scores the first of his two touchdowns Sunday in the Cardinals' 34-20 win over the Browns.
CLEVELAND – The words 'Troy Niklas' and 'raw' have been grouped together so much the past two years he could be confused for a steak.
Niklas may still be a long way from a fully-cooked filet mignon, but the burners have been ignited.
The second-year tight end had only two catches in Sunday afternoon's 34-20 win over the Browns, but both were for touchdowns. The former second-round pick has either been injured or mostly in the background in his time with the team, but became the first
Cardinals tight end since Leonard Pope in 2007 to have a pair of scoring receptions in a game.
Niklas has seen an increase in playing time with the shoulder injury to Darren Fells, and while he's mostly been used as a blocker, he showed on this day he can be useful as a route-runner. Niklas said it was important for him to make a big contribution.
"It's huge for me," Niklas said. "Just having all my injuries and kind of breaking away a little bit. It's just a start – I've still got a lot of work to do – but it's a good start."
The first touchdown gave the Cardinals a 7-0 lead when quarterback Carson Palmer cycled through three other progressions before finding Niklas in the end zone from 11 yards out.
"When I looked around there was no one really around me," Niklas said. "Carson and I kind of locked eyes and he threw it in there."
The second came on a play-action from the 1 in which the Browns bit on the run and left him wide open. The score gave the Cardinals a lead they never relinquished.
"We'd seen some film on them and kind of knew what the d-ends were going to do," Niklas said. "They don't really play the pass in the red zone, so we kind of nailed them and then went out."
RASHAD JOHNSON KEEPS THE TIDE TURNED
The Cardinals somehow led the game 24-20 in the third quarter despite trailing 4-0 in the turnover margin. The fourth giveaway – the second fumble of the day by running back Chris Johnson – set up the Browns at the Arizona 28 as they tried to pull closer or take the lead.
It looked like three points would be the minimum, but safety Rashad Johnson swooped in and intercepted a pass intended for Taylor Gabriel in the end zone.
"As soon as I saw him turn up on the out-and-up, I just took off out of the middle of the field," Johnson said. "I knew Pat (Peterson) was on (Travis Benjamin) and he was going to shut that down and do what he's got to do. So I just went over the top to try to make a play."
The Cardinals drove down the field for a 6-yard Larry Fitzgerald touchdown on their ensuing drive, which seemed to take the rest of the wind out of the Browns' sails.
"I thought that (interception) was a turning point in the game," coach Bruce Arians said.
Chris Johnson finished with 30 carries for 109 yards but was disappointed about coughing the ball up twice. The first one was stripped by linebacker Karlos Dansby and resulted in Cleveland's first touchdown to tie the game at 7.
"I'm down about that," Johnson said. "I don't usually fumble. It's something I have to continue to work on."
POWERS, JOHN BROWN ACTIVE BUT DON'T PLAY
Cornerback Jerraud Powers and wide receiver John Brown were both active but neither saw the field. Arians said they were only going to be used if there was an injury.
"They were probably in the 85-to-90 percent range," Arians said.
Brown, who is second on the team in receiving yards, said the bye week will allow him to heal back up to 100 percent and "get back to the old Smokey, how I was in the beginning of the season."
During the game, though, he wasn't sold that he was only an emergency option.
"At times when we were down, I thought he was going to call me," Brown said. "I was prepared. I was riding that bike because I thought he was going to give me that call."
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald injured his ankle on his touchdown reception but it didn't seem serious, although he declined to talk about it after the game.