CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Don’t look now, but the Cleveland Browns are the hottest team within the AFC North.
While the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals all lost, the Browns came away with their 3rd straight win by beating the Kansas City Chiefs 30-7 to inprove to 5-8 on the year.
“I can get used to this,” kicker Phil Dawson said. “I caught some heat a couple months ago saying I felt like we were right on the verge. My timing might have been a little off, but I think we’re starting to see what I’ve been feeling for a while.”
Dawson was on to something.
Since the 0-5 start to the season, the Browns have gone 5-3, including 4-1 at home.
“I think once you see something happen over and over, then of course it’s easier for me to stand there in front of the team and say, ‘You know what guys, we can do this,'” coach Pat Shurmur said. “It’s an easier sell. Even though I believe it when it’s not happening, or you’re getting to the point where you need to have it happen consistently, once they feel it then they get it right in their minds then they have a better chance to do it.”
The 23 point victory was their largest since the blew out the Cardinals 44-6 on Nov. 16, 2003 at Arizona.
“I’m not used to that math,” Shurmur joked. “We were up 3 scores and I said, ‘Really?’ No, I’m teasing. I’m just happy. It’s good to win in a different way sometimes.”
After Jamaal Charles ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run on the opening snap, the Browns defense threw a goose egg at Kansas City. In the first quarter, the Chiefs ran 16 plays for 183 yards. They ran 36 for 127 yards over the final 3.
“You can see us starting to turn the corner and starting to finish,” returner Josh Cribbs said. “That’s all that’s left for us to do is finish. We get out to these good leads, we had that one hiccup when Jamaal Charles ran up the middle, but after that the defense shut them down. The offense scored points at will and we kept scoring. Special teams was just great today, all across the board. All phases showed up and that’s what happens.”
That type of shut-down defense has helped lead the mid-season turnaround.
“It’s been a long year,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “At first, it was rocky. We were in a lot of close ballgames and we weren’t able to finish, and now we’re starting to create something. We had some young guys at the beginning of the season that were a little immature, and they’ve grown up a little bit.
“We have something going right now.”
Nerves Of Steel – Believe it or not, Mr. Automatic, A.K.A. Phil Dawson was nervous leading up to Sunday’s game.
He was 1 field goal shy of becoming the 25th in NFL history to make 300 for his career.
“Yeah, if you’d seen me kicking in pregame you could probably pick up on it,” Dawson said. “Fortunately, I was kind of [able to] settle down a little bit. Having that first field goal be a short one I think helped me get a little comfortable and then as the game went, situations kept coming and you really start to feel part of the game when you’re out there a lot. That was fortunate for me today.”
Dawson made the 23 yarder with ease to hit the mark – but not after Shurmur calmed him down before kickoff.
“Phil was nervous about it quite frankly,” Shurmur said. “He said, ‘Gosh, every time I’ve had one of these games, it hasn’t worked out.’ I said, ‘Just don’t worry about it. It’s going to be okay.’”
Dawson hit all 3 of his attempts Sunday – also from 24 and 34 yards – to go over 100 points for the first time since 2008 and for the 6th time in his career – a franchise record.
“I’m extremely grateful for all the teammates I’ve had that have helped me get to that,” Dawson said. “Kansas City was coming extremely hard on the field goal rush today. After every field goal, I’m picking up three or four of my guys who are flat on their backs. Those guys never get credit for made field goals, but with 300 made or whatever it is now, there’s been countless guys that have given me the opportunity. I’m just really grateful for those guys.”
Bag Of Tricks – Shurmur broke out his bag of tricks and they played a prominent role in Sunday’s 30-7 win over the Chiefs.
“I was excited about it,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “Anytime I can line up at wide receiver or something like that, look like I know what I’m doing, that breaks up the monotony a little bit, but it was good. I think anytime you do plays like that its tough on defenses. They hadn’t prepared for it and I think it’s a little wrinkle that we threw in there and obviously it paid off. We had two big plays from it.”
The Browns switched punt returners on an attempt to block a punt. It went for a franchise record 93-yard return for a touchdown by Travis Benjamin and gave the Browns the lead for good at 10-7.
“It feels great especially because I was out there on the field and I helped him do it,” Cribbs said. “This is a selfless team. Even when I do good, they feel like they have so much to do with it and they did. My hat goes off to Travis (Benjamin). He’s doing such a good job, coming in on a whim and being able to perform at a high level. He’s doing great.”
In honor of Brian Dabol being in the house – albeit on the other sideline calling plays for the Chiefs – Josh Cribbs and the wildcat returned for a few plays.
Greg Little slid in the backfield and had the ball pitched to him resulting in a 17 yard gain. The pistol formation even appeared.
“We did some fun stuff, handed the ball to certain guys,” Shurmur said. “We could have lost the game maybe, and we saw two wildcat plays that were like ‘What the hell?’ Anyways, we did some fun stuff, and it worked out.”
My Bad Montario – Shurmur apologized for yanking r8uunningback Montario Hardesty before Trent Richardson plunged in for his second 1-yard touchdown run.
Hardesty, who carried 5 times for 35 yards on the drive, lost control of the ball while trying to get across the goal line. He was yanked and Richardson quickly put in for 2nd down.
“I am so upset with myself though for not giving (Montario) Hardesty that opportunity to score there,” Shurmur said. “I’m pissed at myself for doing that. There was nothing to it, it just happened. Montario, as you could see, earned the right to carry the football, which he did.
“He did a good job for us. I trust him in every situation. The people that write about him and follow him ought to be proud of his efforts this year. He’s done an outstanding job.”
Hardesty and Shurmur got into it briefly on the sideline over the quick hook but the 2 spoke and have patched up the misunderstanding.
Playoffs? – With Sunday’s win, the Browns have reached the periphery of the AFC playoff picture.
A lot must happen because the Browns need to win out and finish 8-8 first and foremost.
They also need a ton of help over the final 3 weeks.
With 3 games to play they are 2 games behind both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for the final wild card spot. The Bengals and Steelers play each other and the Browns would need the Steelers to win that match-up to have a shot.