CLEVELAND – A three-game winning streak is unusual for the Browns. A blowout victory is even rarer.
The Browns pulled off the long-overdue double dip Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, handling the Kansas City Chiefs 30-7.
“It was a great feeling to be on the sideline and watch our offense kneel the ball,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “You don’t see if often. It’s great.”
The Browns hadn’t won three straight since a four-game streak to end 2009. They hadn’t taken a game by this margin since a 44-6 win over Arizona in 2003.
“I’m not used to that math,” coach Pat Shurmur joked. “I’m just happy. It’s good to finish games in a different way sometimes.”
The lopsided victory feels different than a once-in-a-blue-moon, any-given-Sunday occasion. The Browns (5-8) have won five of their last eight, and four of their last five at home. The young team that insisted it was making progress all season suddenly has the win streak to prove it.
And it refuses to be officially eliminated from the playoff chase.
Many people outside the team are focused on the uncertainty of the offseason as owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner may choose to change any combination of the general manager, coach and quarterback. But the Browns are concentrating on the pleasant present and the possibility of a fantastic future.
“I don’t want to override my boundaries with, ‘We’re the best team,’ or say stuff like that, but we’re putting something together here and it’s going to be beautiful,” said running back Trent Richardson, who scored twice to tie Jim Brown’s franchise rookie record with nine rushing touchdowns. “We haven’t arrived yet, but we’re just trying to win to get to the next level and be an elite team.”
The blowout win started like many of the blowout losses of the past – with a punch to the gut. Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles took an innocent handoff over right guard and sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown on the first snap.
The defense escaped further damage on the next drive as the Chiefs (2-11) reached the 4-yard line on a pair of completions for 70 yards to receiver Dwayne Bowe. But Peyton Hillis was stopped and Brady Quinn threw two incompletions. Following a false start penalty, Ryan Succop clanged a 27-yard field-goal attempt no good off the left upright.
The rest-of-game shutout was intact and the Chiefs never seriously threatened again. After 183 yards in the first quarter, they managed 127 for the final three.
“It was one of those deals: What just happened? We’re better than that,” Jackson said of the Charles touchdown. “There was no panic.”
“You just got to stop the nosebleeds,” safety T.J. Ward said. “In the past sometimes we might let a nosebleed keep running, and affect us the rest of the game. Right now, one thing goes wrong and we are onto the next play and looking to make a better play.”
Bowe left late in the first quarter with a rib injury and didn’t return. With him out, Hillis a non-factor (five carries, 11 yards) and Quinn struggling, the Browns offense had time to find a rhythm.
It also got a huge boost from rookie receiver Travis Benjamin, who returned a punt a team-record 93 yards for a 10-7 lead on the first play of the second quarter. Benjamin began the play at the line of scrimmage, then sprinted into return position when Joshua Cribbs vacated his spot to attempt to block the punt. Benjamin split two Chiefs at the 15, made a guy miss at the 29 and followed a host of blockers down the left sideline.
“It was the biggest play of the game,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “Momentum, to give us the lead, that was huge.”
“Travis is the fastest man I’ve ever, ever seen in person,” Richardson said. “If he gets the edge, he’s gone. When Travis came back with that return, we were all up and all hyped.”
The lead stayed 10-7 at halftime, but the start of the third quarter sealed the victory and allowed the Browns to score 30 unanswered points for the first time since 1991.
Richardson dived over from a yard for a 17-7 lead after Weeden hit Greg Little for 17 yards and Cribbs gained 12 on a run out of the Wildcat formation. Phil Dawson kicked his second field goal – No. 301 of his career – after undrafted rookie free safety Tashaun Gipson got his first interception and returned it to the 13-yard line.
After forcing another Chiefs punt, the Browns marched 82 yards in 12 plays and 6:25. Richardson scored again from a yard for a 27-7 lead.
With breathing room, the defense got after Quinn, who went 10-for-21 for 159 yards, an interception and a 53.5 rating. He was sacked five times.
It was a bad day all-around for former Browns wearing Chiefs red and yellow.
Coach Romeo Crennel (24-40 with the Browns from 2005-08) couldn’t manage his second straight win, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll didn’t maintain the early momentum, Hillis was booed by his former fans and Quinn looked like the first-round flop he became in Cleveland.
The Chiefs seemed to suffer from an emotional letdown following the murder-suicide by linebacker Jovan Belcher on Dec. 1.
For the Browns, the smiles have been plastered on their faces for 15 days. Shurmur added to the fun by opening up his playbook, possibly inspired by the return of Daboll, who has a reputation for using funky formations and trick plays.
Cribbs ran the Wildcat for the first time this season, running twice for 15 yards. Benjamin picked up 15 on a reverse, Little lined up as the running back and took a pitch 17 yards to the 1 and Weeden lined up in the “pistol” formation.
“We did some fun stuff, and it worked out,” Shurmur said.
“We pulled the plays out when we needed it and Coach is getting a little more flexible at calling plays, a little bit more comfortable with running this team,” Cribbs said. “There’s better things to come.”
The offense wasn’t perfect, but scored more than 20 points for first time since Week 6. Weeden went 17-for-30 for 217 yards and a 79.4 rating. He didn’t throw an interception – two were dropped – and became the first Browns rookie quarterback to win five games.
Richardson was held to 42 yards on 18 carries (2.3 average), but Montario Hardesty came off the bench for 10 carries and 52 yards. Rookie receiver Josh Gordon had a career-high eight catches for 86 yards.
The Browns had lost 11 straight games in which the margin was at least 23 points. They don’t expect a blowout every week, but believe the victories will keep coming.
“We’re starting to turn the corner to the point where we know we can win,” Cribbs said. “Everyone isn’t saying, ‘Three in a row? Wow.’ We’re saying, ‘No, we’re good.’
“Once we got ahead, we were like, ‘All right, let’s blow them out, let’s finish. No coming back.’ And we were able to do that.”
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