The four-game losing streak is over, and it ended in dominant fashion with a 32-13 blowout of the Bengals on Monday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns are 3-5, which isn't what they initially hoped when they viewed their path to the Week 9 bye before the season, but it's enough to at least create some optimism for what's ahead — and the optimism is well-deserved after a complete, full-game effort against a division rival.
Let's break it down.
1. A much-needed breath of fresh air before the bye
The Browns absolutely needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They needed a win to avoid sinking to the bottom of the AFC North with the Steelers. They needed a win to create some positivity after a long, turbulent October.
Cleveland still has a considerable hole to climb from when it returns from the bye, but the Browns can spend the next 13 days feeling good about what they did to a team that was as hot as anyone in the AFC. The Bengals had won four of their last five games and would've deepened their stake as a Super Bowl contender with a win, but the Browns shut them down — completely.
"It wasn't perfect," DE Myles Garrett said. "Perfect would've been a shutout, but it was damn close."
Music blared from speakers in the locker room as players filed in from the field, and many of them walked out of the stadium in Halloween costumes. Once the music and celebration began to settle, Garrett turned up "Thriller" from Michael Jackson from his phone by his locker.
For the first time in over a month, the Browns had a winning postgame vibe. The rejuvenation comes as they get ready to enjoy their first weekend without a game since Labor Day, and it should be especially beneficial when they jump back into possibly their hardest stretch of the season.
The opponents won't be any easier for the Browns out of their bye week. They'll emerge from it with back-to-back road games against the Dolphins (5-3) and Bills (6-1) and then face the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers (3-5).
They're all challenges, but the Browns can feel significantly more confident heading into them after they halted a red-hot Joe Burrow and produced their highest-scoring game of the year.
"It's a momentum game, and it's a momentum season," safety John Johnson III said. "We'll go into the bye and get some rest. I know we can kick back even more now that it's a win. It's huge for us."
The Browns celebrate after a win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football on October 31, 2022 at FirstEnergy Stadium.
2. The most complete game of the season
The Browns dominated from the start — with the exception of perhaps the first nine plays.
The strongest Cincinnati looked all night was the beginning of its first drive. Burrow had moved the Bengals inside Browns territory with passes of 26 and 14 yards and reached Cleveland's 27-yard line.
Then, the Browns shut them down.
A.J. Green started it all by catching a pass that was first deflected by Garrett, then bobbled again by WR Tee Higgins. Green twisted around to catch the ball, eliminating the scoring threat and providing a spark that led to the Browns torching Burrow the rest of the evening.
Burrow was sacked five times and committed two turnovers, the other being a strip by LB Sione Takitaki that DT Tommy Togiai recovered after the Browns forced the Bengals to punt on their next three drives following Green's INT. The Bengals were held to a season-low 229 total yards and didn't have a run for more than 7 yards all night.
After slowing Lamar Jackson down for a season-low scrimmage yard total last week, the Browns defense repeated, if not exceeded that success against another divisional QB.
So after a rough start to the year, has the defense turned a corner?
"We're starting to," Garrett said. "We're picking it up. Two pretty good performances in a row. This one was big. We shut them out in the first half, and then held them to below 17 points. That's what we look to do every game."
Burrow still passed for two touchdowns, including a 41-yard pass to Higgins, but both touchdowns happened in the fourth quarter after the Browns had already turned the game into a blowout.
QB Jacoby Brissett had his best performance of the season and completed 17 of 22 passes for a season-high 278 yards. WR Amari Cooper had his best game of the season, too, save for a poor interception — yes, a throw from Cooper — in the first quarter. Cooper took a pitch from Nick Chubb on a trick play and looked to throw it, but no one was open.
In an attempt to heave the ball out of bounds, Cooper instead chucked the ball directly to Bengals safety Vonn Bell.
After the game, Brissett said "that play's not in (the playbook) no more."
Cooper said, "I'm just going to stick to getting open."
For the rest of the night, he did. Cooper totaled a season-high 131 receiving yards and caught Brissett's lone touchdown of the night, a perfect pass he lobbed over Cooper's shoulder for a 4-yard touchdown that put the Browns up 25-0 in the third quarter and all but sealed the rout.
Cooper has been marvelous for the Browns this season. He's caught touchdowns in five of the Browns' eight games and has been exactly the weapon Brissett has needed to find a rhythm.
"Amari was awesome," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Jacoby was seeing it well. That's a good defense. That's a good rush. We at times tried to block it up. They did a nice job. Found Coop a few times.
"Coop is another guy — I know you are talking about Nick — but another pro's pro. He shows up, gets his work done and leads by example."
Stefanski's right — of course we're going to talk about Chubb, too.
3. Browns get creative with their run game, and it worked
Brissett talked earlier in the week about the need to "empty the tank." He was talking about the team's overall performance and effort, but perhaps he was talking about the playbook, too.
Specifically, with the run.
The Browns displayed more creative looks with their run game than any other performance in Stefanski's head coaching tenure. Chubb took a direct snap from the 3-yard line and had a relatively easy path into the end zone because every Browns offensive linemen won their battle in the trenches. On the next play, they went for a 2-point conversion because of a Bengals penalty on the extra-point attempt and used backup offensive tackle James Hudson as an extra linemen.
Hudson was put in motion before the snap and used his momentum to pulverize a Bengals defender, clearing space for Chubb to find the end zone again.
"It's definitely new to me, but I like it," Hudson said. "It's something I could possibly get used to."
The Browns also used backup center Michael Dunn for several plays as an extra linemen and eligible tight end. That's mostly because they were without TE David Njoku, who was out due to an ankle injury, but the strategy worked to perfection.
Before the question about Dunn's usage could even be finished in his press conference, Stefanski leaned into the microphone and said "that was fun."
"We knew without Dave, other guys were going to have to step up."
The Bengals might not have been expecting one of them to be Dunn.
The execution was stellar, and Chubb rushed for 101 yards and crossed the 100-yard plateau for the fifth time this season. He leads the league in rushing yards and touchdowns after eight weeks.
"(Chubb) is a special player, a special person," Stefanski said. "Great leadership throughout the week. Runs so hard. I think you can point out Nick, but I just think individual efforts across the board, just some of the guys up front that strained, and the finish was really impressive."
Indeed it was.
And the Browns will head into their bye week with a few deep sighs of relief because of it.