The Browns proved Sunday they can find success against some of the best teams in the NFL, but the win didn’t come without adversity.
Cleveland was without top running back RB Nick Chubb and two key defensive players in DT Larry Ogunjobi and S Karl Joseph. The Browns knew they would need to rely on some of their depth to find a winning performance against the Colts, and they needed another big week from their top playmakers, too, to prove that the excitement from their three-game win streak wasn’t going to be short-lived.
Stefanski had found a winning formula with his offense through running the football. The Browns totaled 307 rushing yards last week against the Dallas Cowboys and proved to be a nearly unstoppable team when the run game was at its peak form. The Colts defense, however, had the fourth-best rushing defense in the league, and that meant more weight needed to be put on quarterback Baker Mayfield to keep the offense afloat.
Mayfield was serviceable — he finished 21-of-37 for 247 yards and two touchdowns — but mistakes were still made. He had many perfect throws to receivers that helped the Browns move the chains, but he also threw two interceptions that gave the Colts opportunities to come back.
Mayfield knows those errors have to be corrected. He was blunt about his performance in his postgame interview.
“I think that was the worst game I played out of the five games so far,” he said. “We’ve got to get better, and there’s lots to learn from.”
But here’s the thing: The Browns still made enough big plays to win, and they came from both sides of the ball.
The offense laid the foundation in the second quarter, and it started with a touchdown from RB Kareem Hunt, who continued to bring damage in the passing game by catching a 2-yard throw from Mayfield to give the Browns a 10-7 lead. Hunt rushed for 72 yards and added another 21 through the air, a welcoming sign after Pro Bowl RB Nick Chubb suffered a knee injury last week and is expected to be sidelined for several weeks.
Then, after the defense allowed the Colts to score a field goal on the next drive, they punched back with another passing touchdown. This one went to WR Rashard Higgins, who broke out his red-carpet touchdown celebration to the joy of Browns players for the first time in 2020.
Higgins’ score was the final touchdown from the offense, but the Browns still found ways to maintain their lead.
Safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. opened the third quarter with a pick-6 off Rivers that gave the Browns a 27-10 lead. Three drives later, defensive end Myles Garrett, who continued to add to a promising resume for Defensive Player of the Year by recording a sack and four quarterback hits, applied backfield pressure in the end zone against Rivers, who threw the ball away for an intentional grounding penalty and a safety. In the fourth quarter, safety Sheldrick Redwine thwarted another Colts drive with his first career interception.
The Browns never lost their lead despite the offense’s two second-half turnovers. Mistakes were made, but Cleveland did enough to ensure they didn’t matter.
That stake was firmly claimed Sunday by the Browns.
“(It comes from) the culture we’ve been working on building and the winning mentality no matter what happens,” Mayfield said. “We’re counting on everybody. It takes everybody, and we’ve said it from the very beginning. At some point this year, we’re going to need everybody in the building.”
That point came Sunday, and the Browns rose to the challenge on both sides of the ball. They have accolades to prove it.
The Browns scored at least 30 points in four consecutive games for the first time since 1968. Defensively, Cleveland has recorded at least one takeaway in 12 straight games, the second-longest active streak in the NFL. The Browns have won four consecutive games for the first time since 2009, matching the longest win streak by the team since 1999.
And for fans itching to see success at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns are 3-0 at home for the first time since 2004.
Players are aware of how much their success is welcomed in this city. They’ve been finding ways to win no matter what, and they’re embracing it as much as they can.
“It’s just straight excitement,” Redwine said when asked about the postgame locker room scene. “Everybody is dancing, and we’re just having fun. We’re grown-ups, but we have kid mindsets when it comes to winning. It’s all coming together. Every week, I feel like we’re getting stronger as a team. You can feel it throughout the building.”
The city of Cleveland can feel it, too. The Browns have given themselves and fans celebrations each Sunday for the last four weeks, and after Week 5, the list of reasons to celebrate continued to grow.
“We are in this to win it,” Stefanski said. “We will celebrate this one for a few hours here, but the challenge is coming next week, which is how this NFL comes at you every single week. I think our guys understand the focus has to really be week to week, but we will celebrate this one first.”