CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – ‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through ‘The Land’ dreams of a Browns first win danced in fans’ heads.
As time ticked down, San Diego scrambled to get their field goal unit on to try and tie the game but Josh Lambo’s 45-yard boot sailed wide-right.
The losing streak is over.
After 377 days and 17 consecutive losses the Cleveland Browns stormed the field after hanging on for a 20-17 win over the San Diego Chargers Saturday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“We have a long way to go to get where I want our organization and our football team to get, but today, it is about [the veterans],” head coach Hue Jackson said. “It is a heck of a Christmas present to all involved because these guys worked so hard.”
The specter and the burden of an 0-16 season was lifted the moment the ball slid outside of the right upright of the west end zone after the clock struck 0:00.
Parma native Jamie Meder blocked another would-be tying field goal attempt with 3:45 left in the final quarter, a play that will be remembered and talked about by fans for years to come. Meder stormed through the middle of the line, reached out with his arm and deflected the kick.
“The pierogi prince of Parma strikes again,” left tackle Joe Thomas, who was overcome with emotion in the locker room before the doors opened to reporters, exclaimed.
Robert Griffin III was 17-of-25 for 164 yards and added 42 more yards on 6 carries before departing in the fourth quarter due to a concussion. Cody Kessler relieved and completed 2 passes for 11 yards, including a critical 9-yard pass to fellow rookie Corey Coleman on a third down to allow them to eat more time off the clock.
“I just came in there, wanted to protect the football, run as much time off [so] we could get the win,” Kessler said.
Running back Isaiah Crowell ran 16 times for 54 yards and 2 scores in the victory, the first for the Browns since Dec. 13, 2015, but it was not easy.
“It’s exciting just to get a win first of all,” Crowell said, “also to see my teammates fight till the end. Everybody fought, and everybody went out there and gave it there all.”
It took the Chargers no time to jump out in front in the opening quarter after the Browns won the coin toss but deferred.
Quarterback Phillip Rivers found former Browns receiver Travis Benjamin for 50 yards on the first play of the game and 7 snaps later tight end Antonio Gates was left wide open for a 1-yard touchdown from Rivers to the left side. The TD was made possible with Farrow’s 3-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Cleveland 4.
San Diego’s defense gifted the Browns 3 first downs on their opening drive with a facemask, pass interference and roughing the passer penalties coupled with a fourth down conversion on fourth-and-6 on a 10-yard pass to tight end Gary Barnidge. Crowell punched it in with a run to the right side from 8 yards out to tie the game at 7.
Lambo put the Chargers back on top with a 43-yard field goal at 10-7 but the Browns responded again.
Griffin found Duke Johnson on a slant for 27 yards that saw Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman and safety Jahleel Addae collide with each other. On the next play Griffin hit rookie tight end Seth DeValve at the 4 before Crowell punched it in again. DeValve was shaken up on the play and suffered a back injury but was able to return.
Crowell’s second TD run – from 4 yards with 12:39 to play in the first half – gave the Browns their first lead in a game since Nov. 10 at Baltimore. It also marked the first time the Browns scored 2 touchdowns in a game since Oct. 30.
It was a lead they would not relinquish.
“We’ve got to keep going,” Crowell said. “We can’t stop here. One win isn’t enough. We have to keep going. We’ve got to keep fighting. We’ve got to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers; it’s the next game up, and that’s very important.”
On the ensuing possession, Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor picked off an under-thrown ball from Rivers to Gates, who got behind the secondary and would’ve had a TD, and returned it 17 yards to the Chargers 30. Griffin ran twice for 20 yards combined a 2 first downs before Cody Parkey kicked a 49-yard field goal to extend to a 17-10 advantage with 4:46 to play in the opening half.
“They kept trying me, but I knew I was just going to keep making plays,” Taylor said. “I didn’t know if they thought I was going to be the weak link, but I knew I wasn’t going to be that guy. My teammates depend on me and our coaches do a great job of preparing us all week. Every time they tried to make a play, I tried to make one too.”
Cleveland extended to a 20-10 lead with Parkey’s second field goal – 27 yards – to cap their opening possession of the second half.
San Diego cut the lead to 3 again when Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams made a 1-handed catch on a 1-yard score in the left flat of the end zone with 4:54 left in the third. A pass interference penalty on Taylor working against Gates in the end zone moved the ball to the 1.
The Browns defense forced consecutive punts, the second came after Chargers receiver Dontrelle Inman bobbled a catch going to the ground on a would-be first down with 11:49 to play. Rivers was hot, yelling at the officials because he tried to snap the ball before they stopped play to rule it incomplete.
Griffin was walked off the field by trainers following another hit on the fifth sack of the day for the Chargers at the 10:30 mark of the third quarter forcing rookie Cody Kessler into duty. Kessler’s third down throw was dropped by rookie Corey Coleman near the sticks forcing a third consecutive punt.
San Diego’s defense totaled 9 of them but 9 penalties for 92 yards that gave Cleveland 5 first downs.
Cleveland’s defense held again when inside linebacker Jamie Collins along with cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Taylor stopping Farrow in the backfield on third-and-1 with just under 7 minutes to play. Taylor was able to strip the ball on a throw from Rivers to Williams on second down in the end zone, which led to a 32-yard field goal try by Lambo.
Meder got penetration and then his hand on the football to reject the kick.
“Being from here, it was just amazing,” Meder said.
San Diego got one last last gasp offensively but it is the Browns who can finally exhale.