The questions on a lot of people's minds going into this week, where the Browns were favored by a touchdown for the first time in who knows how long, were "Can the Browns avoid a letdown against a banged up Chiefs team?" and "Will the Chiefs have anything left emotionally after enduring a horrific tragedy and winning big at home last week?" On the first play of the game, it looked like the first answer was a resounding "No" and the second an emphatic "Yes", as Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles took a routine hand off from former Cleveland quarterback Brady Quinn and raced 80 yards untouched into the east end zone to greet the Dawg Pound. One play. Chiefs 7, Browns 0. Ugh.
After some choice words and feverishly checking to see if the guy I was playing in the fantasy football playoffs had Charles on his team, I collected myself and convinced my inner child that there's a reason NFL games are sixty minutes long. There was plenty of time for the Browns to bounce back from such a disastrous start, I thought to myself bitterly. As it turns out, the Browns starters, namely Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson, didn't even need all sixty minutes to put the Chiefs away, as backup quarterback Colt McCoy and Montario Hardesty came in the game to run out the clock with the Browns up 30-7. It was the first time the Browns scored 30 unanswered points since 1991. Wow!
For the second week in a row, the Browns beat a team they should've beaten; only this time, they get major style points. Sparked by Travis Benjamin's 94-yard punt return for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to give Cleveland the lead for good, the Browns were actually fun to watch. That is not a line that should be taken lightly, given the Browns propensity for boring their fans to sleep in recent seasons. On this day, however, Browns head coach Pat Shurmur decided to buck the trend.
The punt return was actually a trick play where the Browns return team tricked the Chiefs into thinking they were going to block the punt and left one of the Chiefs gunners uncovered. When the Chiefs saw Josh Cribbs come up into the box and leave Benjamin deep, they brought the gunner in for max protection on the punt instead of just tossing it out to him for what would've been a sure first down. This left Benjamin free to catch the punt and time to run with it. That was all he needed as he raced down the left sideline on his way to breaking Eric Metcalf's old record of 93 yards for the longest punt return for a touchdown in Browns' history. No flag on the play. Just points.
The Browns offense, aided by some fortunate drops by the Chiefs' defensive backs, was able to move the ball fairly easily, although they struggled for much of the first half to put points on the board. As time wound down before halftime, Shurmur got conservative and seemed happy to take a 10-7 lead into the half, knowing they were going to get the ball back to start the third quarter. A move that was typical of the Pat Shurmur Era up to this point in Cleveland Browns history. According to Richardson, however, offensive coordinator Brad Childress came in and challenged the offense at halftime by telling them that they were capable of playing better than they had up to that point.
Whatever Childress said worked, as the Browns got the ball to start the second half and marched right down the field and scored a Richardson touchdown set up by a sweep to Cribbs in the "Wildcat" formation to give the Browns a 17-7 lead. On Thursday, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron had commented how former Browns and current Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was prone to run some trick plays and that they would be ready for them. What Jauron didn't mention was that perhaps that was because Shurmur and Childress had been installing their own trick plays on offense all week to reveal against the Chiefs.
After a Tashaun Gipson interception off a deflection by Sheldon Brown only led to three points, thanks to some questionable calls by the officials which negated two touchdown plays, the Browns reached back into their bag of tricks to catch the Chiefs napping once again. As the third quarter was nearing its end, with the Browns up 20-7, Brandon Weeden took a snap on third and nine and pitched it left to Greg Little, who had motioned from the right slot into the backfield. Little, the former running back (as a sophomore) at North Carolina, took the pitch and rumbled down to the Kansas City one-yard line. Two plays later, Richardson was in for his second touchdown of the day to put the Browns up 27-7.
It became clear to me during that drive that Shurmur is finally beginning to trust his young team enough to put them in situations that will maximize their contributions to the team. He and Childress are putting the Browns in position, literally, to win games. Benjamin backed up as a returner and darting around the edge on a double reverse, Cribbs out of the Wildcat, and Little carrying the ball out of the backfield on a sweep... Each play worked thanks to beautiful execution by all 11 guys on the field. But they were conceived and implemented because the team is growing and the coaching staff is growing comfortable with them.
What you have, as a result, was a fun, healthy, stomping of an inferior team in front of your home crowd and a three-game winning streak jammed-packed with momentum like a snowball rolling downhill. But perhaps more importantly, what you have is hope in December, if you're one of the coaches trying to prove you deserve a chance to stick around another year... or, if you're one of the fans trying to prove to yourself that your team is finally giving you something worth cheering about. For now, let's leave it at that.
There's a famous scene in Star Wars where Harrison Ford, playing the rebellious outlaw Han Solo, is attempting to avoid enemy spacecraft so he purposely flies into an asteroid field knowing anyone crazy enough to follow him would be committing suicide. The ever resourceful protocol droid C-3PO tries to remind him that the chances of their own survival through the asteroid field do not weigh in their favor before Solo cuts him off with his famous line, "Never tell me the odds!" When it comes to playoff scenarios, it seems the Browns are currently navigating an asteroid field. My suggestion: Don't tell me the odds Browns fans, just enjoy the ride!