CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns are finally streaking in a positive direction.
Rookie Travis Benjamin’s electrifying 93-yard punt return touchdown gave Cleveland momentum and the Browns won their third straight game, 30-7 over the emotionally drained Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
Benjamin’s game-changing runback helped the Browns (5-8) continue their resurgence under second-year coach Pat Shurmur, whose future in Cleveland remains uncertain. The Browns, who opened this season with five consecutive losses, have one more win than last season, and their longest winning streak since 2009.
Rookie Trent Richardson had a pair of 1-yard TD runs for Cleveland.
Jamaal Charles ran for 165 yards, breaking off an 80-yard TD run on the game’s first play for Kansas City.
It was the first road game for the Chiefs (2-11) following linebacker Jovan Belcher’s suicide. The 25-year-old killed his girlfriend at their home before driving to the team’s practice facility on Dec. 1 and shooting himself.
Richardson’s second TD early in the fourth quarter gave the Browns a 27-7 lead and finally put away the Chiefs, who a week ago were able to pull together and win at home over Carolina, less than one day after Belcher’s unspeakable act. On Saturday, Charles, several teammates and general manager Scott Pioli attended a memorial service in Texas for Kasandra Perkins, who was killed by Belcher.
Coach Romeo Crennel had rallied his team through the difficult ordeal, but it may have been too much to expect the Chiefs to repeat last week’s effort.
Charles was able to return after sustaining a rib injury that knocked him out one series. Kansas City, though, lost leading receiver Dwayne Bowe, who injured his ribs in the first half and didn’t return.
Without Bowe, quarterback Brady Quinn was without his top target. Quinn, who had his best game as a pro last week, finished 11 of 22 for 159 yards and one interception.
Phil Dawson kicked field goals of 23, 24 and 34 yards for the Browns. His first kick made him the 25th player in NFL history to make 300 field goals.
The 23-point margin of victory was Cleveland’s largest since 2003 — a significant accomplishment for a franchise that has had 11 double-digit loss seasons since 1999.
Benjamin’s 93-yard punt return — the longest in team history — gave the Browns a 10-7 lead.
Just before the snap, Benjamin lined up to block Kansas City’s gunner before running back 50 yards and switching spots with Josh Cribbs, who rushed up the middle. Benjamin fielded the kick inside his 10, cut sharply left at the 20, picked up a few blockers, made punter Dustin Colquitt miss and outran the rest of Kansas City’s coverage unit.
The return by the speedy Benjamin, a fourth-round pick from Miami, was one yard longer than Eric Metcalf’s TD at Cincinnati on Sept. 4, 1994.
Now with Benjamin joining Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Josh Gordon as playmakers, the Browns have a solid offensive foundation for the future. On defense, several rookies, including linemen Billy Winn and John Hughes have contributed all season.
Shurmur and his staff have the Browns headed in the right direction, but there’s no guarantee new owner Jimmy Haslam will allow them to stay next season.
Cleveland started the second half at their 40 after Kansas City’s Ryan Succop shanked the kickoff out of bounds. Two plays later, Weeden nearly threw an interception, but tight end Ben Watson wrestled the ball away from Chiefs safety Eric Berry to keep the drive alive.
Richardson then plowed in for his eighth rushing TD, and later got his ninth to tie the team rookie record set by Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1957).
The Browns came in worrying about Charles’ ability to score from anywhere on the field, and he only needed 12 seconds to make them more concerned.
Taking a handoff to the right on the first snap, Charles busted through Cleveland’s line and took off, running away from the Browns defensive backs. Charles had a 91-yard TD run earlier this season against New Orleans.
Kansas City drove it to Cleveland’s 3-yard line on its next possession, set up by Quinn’s 47-yard pass to Bowe. But the Chiefs bogged down and Succop’s 27-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright — the first of many signs this would not be Kansas City’s day.
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