To any neutral or outside observer, Cleveland’s win Sunday most definitely was not aesthetically pleasing. Neither offense scored in the first half, the first time that had happened all season in the NFL. Big plays were sparse. Punts were plentiful. And the rain never stopped.
But for a franchise with an 18-year postseason drought -- the longest in the league -- winning ugly is much preferred to not winning at all.
And at 7-3, these Browns keep finding a way to win.
“A win is a win,” said Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. “No matter or however we get there.
“You might call it ugly. … We will take it.”
The Browns have scored just two offensive touchdowns over their past three games. And Mayfield himself has gone three consecutive games without a touchdown pass, the longest scoring drought of his career as a starting quarterback, college or pro.
But in winning its past two games, Cleveland has passed the Baltimore Ravens for second place in the AFC North standings. And ESPN FPI now projects the Browns to finish 10-6 while giving them a 58.2% chance to make the playoffs.
“We are a tough, resilient team,” said linebacker Sione Takitaki, who produced Cleveland’s only score in the first half Sunday, a 50-yard pick-six of Carson Wentz. “I feel like things are working out, and that is football. That is how things are going to be in some games. I feel like we have a tight unit and a tight team.”
The Browns have demonstrated as much, despite key absences and awful weather conditions.
They’re essentially 3-1 since losing wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a season-ending knee injury on the first drive against Cincinnati last month.
They withstood the knee injury to running back Nick Chubb, who has returned to finish off these last two victories with dazzling fourth-quarter runs.
And Sunday, they overcame the loss of pass-rusher Myles Garrett, who remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Stepping up for Garrett, Olivier Vernon delivered a career-high three sacks, while others such as rookie defensive tackle Jordan Elliott (forced fumble inside the Cleveland 5-yard line) and end Adrian Clayborn (1.5 sacks) produced big plays, as well.
“We talked all week, you lose a guy Myles’ caliber, you are not going to replace him,” Stefanski said. “You need guys to step up, and it is a committee approach. I thought the guys really played hard. Really proud of those guys.”
As a result, the Browns own their best record through 10 games since 1994. And with one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league, they’re on track to do what no Cleveland team has done since 2002.
True, the Browns are winning ugly.
What matters is that they are winning.
“When we have a singular focus and that singular mindset of just one game at a time, we can be pretty good,” Mayfield said. “Not lose sight of the big picture. One game at a time. The job is not finished yet.”