‘Like a complex puzzle, it takes time to come together. There are pains along the way before you see the image take shape.’
DALLAS — Admit it. When the Cleveland Browns kicked a field goal late in the 3rd quarter of Sunday’s 49-38 win against the Dallas Cowboys, you were doing the math. We were all doing it. Fans of most teams can safely run errands and enjoy the rest of their Sunday afternoon with their team leading 41-14 heading to the 4th quarter. Well, maybe not Falcons fans — but definitely not Browns fans. For starters, we never see that big of a lead. But when we do, we don’t see 41-14. We see a math problem.
It wasn’t 41-14 for us. It was 41 minus 14 equals 27. Then we immediately start doing addition. 7 plus 7 plus 7 plus 7 means Dallas takes a 42-41 lead. Browns fans with more experience jumped right to this equation: 8 plus 8 plus 8 plus 3 will tie it. Either way, Dallas needs four scores to tie it or win it. We knew this was absolutely a possibility. We’re Browns fans.
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Slowly and painfully we watched this math equation take on a real life in the 4th quarter. Touchdown, Cowboys. 2 point conversion. Punt for the Browns. Touchdown, Cowboys. 2 point conversion. Wash, rinse, repeat. 41-14 turned into 41-22, which turned into 41-30, which became 41-38. Do I know the quickest route to the nearest hospital? You know, just in case. Our biggest fear was playing out on yet another otherwise perfectly good October Sunday afternoon. That was the point when I’m pretty sure I invented several new curse words. I won’t re-use them here. As I jumped to my feet after the 3rd straight successful 2 point conversion in the span of 8:42 my legs were literally wobbly.
I take this stuff way too seriously!
The most grizzled of Browns fans saw it coming at 41-14. It’s just what happens to us. But while the script was playing out to perfection for Dallas and to a familiar misery for Cleveland, a funny thing happened. This time it ended differently. Despite an avalanche of Browns miscues, and big plays for the Cowboys, this time, against America’s team smack in the middle of JerryWorld, the Browns made big plays when they needed them most and it was the opposition serving up the assist. It was a nice change.
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After cutting the 27 point lead all the way to 3 points, the Cowboys inexplicably decided to help the Browns cause with a squib kick. There was 3:42 left in regulation. The way the Cowboys were going that was almost enough time for two stops and two scores using the kick deep formula they had been employing. Instead, Greg Zuerlein squibbed a spinner that covered only 23 yards. By the time Dontrell Hilliard picked it up and ran another 8 yards the Browns were set-up at mid-field. That’s something the Browns might have pulled off in any of the past, oh, 6 or 7 regimes.
But this time it was the Dallas Cowboys playing the role of the facilitator and the Browns made them pay. On the very next play, Kevin Stefanski re-inserted Kareem Hunt for the first time since his 2 yard loss with 2:57 to play in the 3rd quarter. With the Fox Sports announce team giving no information on Hunt’s status, conventional wisdom led me to think Hunt had tweaked his groin and Stefanski didn’t want to risk losing two Pro Bowl running backs on the same day. But for this play, Hunt was back on the field to play the crucial role of a decoy.
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After the game, Hunt said the advice he gave to OBJ before the trick sweep play that went 50 yards for the final score was to “get 5 yards, stay in bounds, slide or whatever, and I’m going to handle the rest.” They wouldn’t need him. Beckham finished his best day with the Browns with a 50 yard touchdown run that served as the dagger in the middle of the star. Beckham’s final numbers: 5 catches for 81 yards and 2 TDs, 2 rushes for 73 yards and another score. That’s why he was brought to Cleveland. After the game, Hunt brushed off inquiries on his status by saying only, “We are not going to talk about it, and I will see you next week.”
Even with the big play score and crazy blocked PAT try that turned into a Browns 2 point conversion, many Browns fans were still doing the math. 49-38. 11 points. A touchdown, a 2 point conversion, a stop, an on-side kick recovery a FG, hey, there was still 3:24 left in regulation. But with the Cowboys on the doorstep of the touchdown portion of that bizarre scenario, Denzel Ward stepped between a Dak Prescott’s pass and Amare Cooper to finally end the heart-thumping drama with a timely interception. We could all exhale. I felt like I just went 15 rounds with Mike Tyson. In his prime.
This time, there was no snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, with the exception of the OBJ run and the Ward pick, the 4th quarter may have been the ugliest quarter of Browns football in a very long time. That’s saying something. This, after playing perhaps the best half of football in my lifetime. That’s what young and improving teams do: Flashes of brilliance followed by mind-numbing stretches. But in the end, this one had a different ending. The collapse was averted. Crises avoided.
Now, the Browns await an MRI on the knee of Nick Chubb. Even with his early injury the Browns rushed for more than 300 yards. Think of the guys that made the big plays. Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Jr., Denzel Ward, Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and Baker Mayfield making big throws in tight spots. This is exactly what fans envisioned since this version of the Browns started coming together. Like a complex puzzle, it takes time to come together. There are pains along the way before you see the image take shape. Perhaps the missing piece was Kevin Stefanski. He has found a way to integrate all of this talent on offense. He’s cracked the code and figured out how to harvest big names and big play makers, into big plays and plenty of points. At 3-1 and with a 49 point road performance coming off the heels of back to back 30 point plus outbursts, it feels like the pieces are finally clicking into place.
- The Browns are 3-1 for the first time since 2001.
- The Browns secured two wins against NFC East opponents in the same season for the first time ever.
- The Browns have scored at least 30 points in three straight games for the first time since 1968.
- The Browns 31 points in the first half was the most by the team since 1991.
- The Browns 307 rushing yards was the most by the team in a single game since 2009.
- Myles Garrett’s two sacks gives him 35.5 for his career. Only Reggie White, Aldon Smith, Shawne Merriman and Derrick Thomas had more through their first 41 games.
- Myles Garrett now has a strip-sack in three straight games.
- When Kareem Hunt scored his first TD in the second quarter, he and Nick Chubb became just the 3rd set of RB teammates each with at least 4 td’s through 4 games in the Super Bowl era.
- The Browns are 5-1 when Hunt scores since 2019.
- With his 43 rushing yards vs Cowboys, Chubb becomes 10th all-time on the Browns rushing list. He’s done that in just 35 games.
- D’Ernest Johnson (95 yds on 13 carries) and Dontrell Hilliard (43 yds on 5 carries) both had career highs in yards in a single game.