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3 Big Takeaways: Full cast of 'next men up' star in another Browns victory

Cleveland relied on its depth at a number of spots to collect another W

1. Full cast of 'next men up' star in another Browns victory

The Browns have had injuries at a number of key positions all throughout the season and weathered a few more Sunday. 

That's not uncommon throughout the NFL, of course, but what happened from the players who are helping to fill those voids is why the Browns extended their winning streak to four games with a gritty win over the Colts.

Cleveland's cast of "next men up" is growing, and each one of them seemingly played a big role in Sunday's 32-23 win.

"Guys step up," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "That is the nature of the National Football League. Played a good team. It is a physical game and guys step up when their number is called. I am proud of them."

It started on offense, where the Browns played their first game without Nick Chubb, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury. The running game struggled like it hadn't all season, as the Colts defense provided plenty of resistance and limited the chunk runs that had been a hallmark to the Browns' start to the year. The player pressed into extra duty because of Chubb's injury, D'Ernest Johnson, had just 3 yards on his first four carries but made arguably the biggest play of the game when he rushed for 28 on a third-and-9 with less than 3 minutes to play and the Browns clinging to a six-point lead.

"It was unbelievable," Stefanski said. "What a great job by D'Ernest. Man, did we need that. That was a great effort."

Johnson was rushing behind a Browns offensive line that was without one of its starters for most of the game, as guard Wyatt Teller exited in the first quarter with a calf injury and didn't return. That pressed Chris Hubbard into extensive action for the second time of the season, and the Browns O-line didn't miss a beat.

Without KhaDarel Hodge, who is on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, Rashard Higgins saw his most playing time of the season. He delivered with his first touchdown of the year, a 15-yarder in the second quarter, and two more catches.

"Very important for us to be able to plug those guys in and continue to move the ball," Browns QB Baker Mayfield said. "We are very happy about those guys."

Defensively, the Browns' two biggest plays were made by players who hadn't played more than a handful of snaps in any game this season.

Ronnie Harrison Jr., making his first start of the year in place of an injured Karl Joseph, stepped in front of a Philip Rivers pass early in the third quarter and returned it, untouched, 47 yards for a touchdown — the first of his career.

One quarter later, when Harrison was lost to a concussion, Sheldrick Redwine picked off Rivers to stave off another Colts attempt at slicing into the Browns' lead. Redwine, a second-year player, had played almost exclusively on special teams up to that point.

"We have guys who suit up and put on their shorts just like anybody else," DE Myles Garrett said. "They are out there because they can make plays and they deserve to be on that field. They just had the opportunity to show it. Sheldrick went out there and made a big play. All those guys are out there to do the job to the best of their ability, and they did it in opportune times like that when we needed it."

2. Tale of 2 halves for Baker Mayfield

Mayfield's first half Sunday was easily his best of the season, as he completed 19-of-28 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns to stake the Browns to a 20-10 advantage. That same success didn't carry into the final 30 minutes, as Mayfield threw for just 17 yards, had two interceptions and suffered a rib injury.

The latter was all that was on Mayfield's mind in his post-game press conference, as he called his performance his worst of the season.

"I have to get better," Mayfield said. "A lot to learn from, but we learned on that defense and we got the yards when we needed it. The good thing about it is we do not have to learn from a loss – we can get better after a win."

Asked if he felt that way after his first half, Mayfield pointed to some missed opportunities, including a drive late in the second quarter that stalled and led to a field goal.

"I still think there were some things [to improve]. There were missed completions and some high balls," Mayfield said. "There is a lot of room for improvement, but that is a good thing after a win. We can continue to get better, especially on my part." 

Mayfield got some good news after the game when X-Rays came up negative on his sore ribs. Even before he knew the result, Mayfield vowed he would be ready for next week's showdown in Pittsburgh between the 4-1 Browns and 4-0 Steelers.

"There is a lot of season left. We have to continue to improve," Mayfield said. "A lot to learn from from this film, especially on my part. Have to continue to get better and put us in positions to win. There were two turnovers today. Not good enough. A lot of missed completions out there and a lot of guys that were open so have to continue to get better."

3. A special game ball

The entire Browns' family was hurting in the days leading up to Sunday's game against the Colts.

Bridget McDevitt, the wife of Browns Vice President, General Counsel Ted Tywang, lost her battle with neuroendocrine cancer Friday. The Browns honored McDevitt before Sunday's game — which served as the Browns' annual cancer awareness game as a part of the NFL's Crucial Catch campaign — and Stefanski paid tribute to her and her family afterward with a game ball.

"Our Browns family is hurting a lot right now," Stefanski said. "Everybody knows what is going on with Crucial Catch. It affects everybody, an awful disease. We are hurting, but we want to make sure that Ted and his family got a game ball and we were thinking about them and talking about them throughout all this."

The Browns and American Cancer society have partnered to create a visual drive-thru experience outside of FirstEnergy Stadium from 6:30- 8 p.m. on Saturday. The socially-distant presentation will feature luminaria to honor and remember those who have previously and are currently facing cancer and advance the fight against breast cancer.

Check out photos of the Colts against the Browns

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