CLEVELAND — Off to their best start since quarterback Baker Mayfield was in first grade, the Cleveland Browns survived playing most of one game without star running back Nick Chubb.
They’re going to have to do it for a while longer.
Chubb will be out at least “several weeks” with a sprained right knee, and the injury may force the Browns to be even more creative on offense to keep their strong start in 2020 rolling.
Chubb hurt his medial collateral ligament when got rolled up on during the first half of Sunday’s 49-38 score-fest against the Dallas Cowboys, a victory that gave the Browns their first 3-1 start since 2001.
Coach Kevin Stefanski wouldn’t speculate on how long Chubb, the NFL’s second-leading rusher last season, will be sidelined other than to say the Pro Bowler will be placed on injured reserve, which means a minimum of three weeks.
Stefanski downplayed an NFL Network report that Chubb will be out for six weeks, mainly because he respects the 24-year-old’s work ethic.
“I know Nick Chubb,” he said Monday, “so I wouldn’t put a time frame on it just yet.″
Losing Chubb for one series, let alone one game, is a major blow to the Browns, who will host the Indianapolis Colts and their top-ranked defense on Sunday. But if there is any comfort after his injury, it’s that the team didn’t miss a beat when he went out at Dallas.
Cleveland gained 267 of its 307 yards rushing after Chubb limped off the field in the first quarter.
Kareem Hunt, a former league rushing champion with Kansas City, played through a groin injury and finished with 71 yards and two touchdowns. Odell Beckham ran for 73 yards, the last 50 coming with an electrifying, game-sealing touchdown — one of three for the receiver — on a reverse.
And D’Ernest Johnson, who spent six weeks working on a Florida fishing boat when his football career was in limbo, rushed for a team-high 95 yards. Dontrelle Hilliard chipped in 19.
It was the first time Cleveland had three players rush for more than 70 yards in the same game.
Hunt, in particular, gives the Browns an ideal “next man up” because of his versatility.
“You get the best of both worlds with Kareem,” said Johnson, who played at South Florida. “He can run the ball well and he can catch out of the backfield well. He is an all-around back. He can do it all.”
Hunt will have plenty of help and it will be up to Stefanski, Mayfield and Cleveland’s other playmakers to keep the Browns’ surprising start from sputtering.
“You lose a player of Nick’s caliber, we are going to need those guys to step up really across the entire offense,” Stefanski said.
Cleveland’s offensive line is in sync, and Stefanski is spreading the ball around.
The Browns lead the league with 818 yards rushing and the unit, anchored by center JC Tretter, has done a nice job protecting Mayfield, who didn’t throw an interception for the second game in a row.
Stefanski’s clever play-calling has set the tone for the Browns, who fooled the Cowboys early as wide receiver Jarvis Landry fired a 37-yard TD pass to Beckham for the game’s first points.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Browns’ secondary, which is missing two probable starters due to injuries, was shredded in the second half by Cowboys QB Dak Prescott. He passed for 502 yards and was in position to pull Dallas closer when cornerback Denzel Ward picked him off inside the 10 with 1:36 left.
There were chances to stop Prescott earlier, but the Browns didn’t make plays.
Beckham played like the Beckham the Browns thought they were getting in last year’s blockbuster trade with the New York Giants.
It was his first three-TD game since 2015, and doing it against the Cowboys, an old nemesis, made it that much sweeter.
“He is a major part of our attack and we have to make sure that we are utilizing him as best we can,” Stefanski said.
Safety Andrew Sendejo has become an easy target for Cleveland fans, who lit up social media after he appeared to be beaten badly on a touchdown pass.
Sendejo bounced back and stripped Ezekiel Elliott as the Browns forced turnovers on consecutive plays.
“Playing hard. He is making plays on the ball,” Stefanski said of the 11-year veteran. “He punched that ball out of the runner there. He can clean things up, just like the whole lot of guys honestly.”
Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi sustained an oblique injury and Stefanski said “we will see how that goes throughout this week.” Wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge is “week to week” with a hamstring injury suffered during pregame warmups.
Tight end David Njoku could be back this week after going on IR with a knee strain last month.
8 — The number of turnovers forced in the past two weeks by the Browns, who lead the league with 10 takeaways.
The eye-opening win over Dallas will look more impressive if the Browns can handle the Colts, who have also won three straight.