CINCINNATI — It was a roller-coaster of a week for the Cleveland Browns, with perhaps the most challenging test the new regime had seen thrown at them: remaining calm, cool and collected in the face of chaos and dysfunction. The team could have spiraled, could have been the Browns of the past. Instead, they made a statement—dysfunction has no place in Cleveland anymore.
After finalizing the release of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns were free to focus on their divisional match-up with the Bengals and free to approach the game highlighting their offensive strengths of establishing the run game, spreading the ball around and utilizing the talent of the tight end room.
Defensively, the Browns finally got on a roll with racking up interceptions and fumbles, showcasing the versatility of their players and highlighting their ability to cover even the most explosive offensive weapons.
The Browns came out on top with a massive 41-16 win over the Bengals on a day they needed a victory more than ever.
The Browns found the end zone four times Sunday, mixing their scoring between both the run and the pass game.
Nick Chubb dominated both on the ground and in the air. Chubb’s first quarter found him 3 carries for 33 yards and two receptions for 26 yards, one of which was a deeper, 23-yard target. By the end of the game, Chubb notched 137 rushing yards on 14 carries for two touchdowns.
It’s hard to have an answer for a player like Chubb, and head coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t shy away from using his star running back and sticking to the identity of Cleveland’s offense, feeding Chubb the ball and reaping the rewards. It didn't hurt that the Browns offensive line showed off Sunday, with Wyatt Teller leading the charge, pancake blocking all day long to create wide-open running lanes for Chubb.
But Stefanski also showcased his love of tight end usage, getting David Njoku, Harrison Bryant and Austin Hooper all in the mix, splitting five receptions between the three for a total of 58 yards and a touchdown for Njoku. Receivers had a total of seven receptions, with Donovan Peoples-Jones, Demetric Felton, Anthony Schwartz and Jarvis Landry all in the mix.
Peoples-Jones showed what running a strong route can do for the receiver room, breaking away down the middle for a 60-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Baker Mayfield.
"He's Mr. Dependable, he shows up and does his job," Stefanski said of DPJ.
Maybe most impressive on the offense was Mayfield, who showed that this is his team and led his offense through a dramatic week with him at the center of it all. Rather than let the week eat at him, Mayfield showed out Sunday, throwing 14-for-21 for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
Browns fans, who showed up strong Sunday in Cincinnati, led "Let's go Baker" chants in Paul Brown Stadium as the game came to a close.
The offensive performance seemed to be a proclamation that this team will keep things together through adversity with Mayfield at the helm.
While the Browns offense was on a roll, the defense came to play Sunday as well.
A weakness of the Browns this season has been getting takeaways. The Browns entered Sunday's game tied for second fewest in the league with five takeaways this season. So often they had been close but weren't able to capitalize on the opportunities. Until Sunday.
"I think if you do your job and you play technique, the takeaways will come. I think we're doing more things to emphasize it. We chart them every day, making the cut up and showing the players opportunities where we did ball search and turn the ball over and then opportunities where we missed. I think it comes down to guys running to the ball, doing their job and taking advantage of the situation,” defensive coordinator Joe Woods said on Thursday.
And they certainly did just that.
Safety John Johnson III notched an interception and a forced fumble while cornerback Denzel Ward had a 99-yard pick-six in the game's opening drive to get the Browns on the board early.
The defense stopped both of the Bengals' fourth down attempts and held them to a 3-11 third-down efficiency.
Woods mixed up his defensive coverage between man and zone, threw Troy Hill in the blitzing mix and had moments of pure excellence. Hill, Anthony Walker, Sheldon Day and, of course Myles Garrett, all got in on sacking Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. Greg Newsome II and Ward played lock-down defense with the rookie shutting down the explosive Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase, holding him to just six receptions and 49 yards. Now, it wasn't perfect and Woods and his unit still have work to do, and some discipline issues to address, but his defense has allowed just 45 points over the past three games. There's not much more you can ask for in that regard.
Teams that win the turnover battle also win the game 78.6% of the time, and Sunday, those odds stayed in the Browns' favor.
And Teamwork, oh my!
The Browns needed to win Sunday, and they knew that. Stefanski entered the game saying they were "desperate" for a win.
“I see the challenge in trying to get a win. We are 4-4. We have to get a win. Our lives depend on it is the way we look at it. We are desperate, and that is where our focus is," Stefanski said on Wednesday.
The Browns took that desperation and put it all together Sunday. They proved that the locker room was not lost in all of the Beckham drama. Mayfield showed he is still a leader of his offense. Stefanski called a good game and wasn't in his head. Cleveland showed it's just fine despite what some on the outside may have thought and reminded fans not to count them out.
"We've got a good group, we really do," Mayfield said after the win. "We played for each other."
On both sides of the ball, Browns players came together. With Beckham released, players lost a teammate. Many lost a good friend. But they moved on and played through the adversity, brushing off the dysfunction and showing themselves to be the true professionals they are. This was the Browns team that was advertised leading into the season, and this is the Browns team that will need to continue pushing forward.
Cleveland will look to use this win as fuel entering their next challenge—a big one at Gillette Stadium as they are set to take on the New England Patriots. But until then, enjoy your Victory Monday, Browns fans.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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