DE Myles Garrett said the Browns had to find a way to win Sunday's game. And they did.
The Browns took down one of the two undefeated teams left in the NFL on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, as they beat the 49ers 19-17 in a comeback win.
"When the chips are down and odds are against you, you know you got to make the most of what you got," Garrett said. "We played the best we could with the cards were dealt and made the most out of it. Those guys, credit to them on offense, came in ready to play. We knew they would. And even though we had a couple of people go down on defense, the next man up was ready for the moment and consistently got stops because those guys knew exactly what they needed to do. And always on their P's and Q's throughout the week and it showed today."
Cleveland is now 3-2 on the season, while the San Francisco recorded its first loss of the season and is 5-1.
Let's look at three main takeaways from Sunday's win.
QB P.J. Walker holds his own in commanding the Browns offense
The Browns entered the week with some uncertainty around the quarterback position with QB Deshaun Watson's shoulder injury. Walker took reps with the first team in preparation, and after Watson was officially ruled out on Friday, Walker was officially named the starter.
It wasn't a perfect game for Walker, especially with the timing of the interception early in the fourth quarter which set the 49ers up to then score on their next drive and give them a 17-13 lead. Walker finished Sunday's game throwing 18-of-34 for 192 yards and two interceptions. He was also sacked twice. Walker finished the game with a 45.2 passer rating.
However, overall, HC Kevin Stefanski was pleased with how Walker managed the game on Sunday in his first start with the Browns.
"I felt proud of him," Stefanski said. "He battled. He's going to tell you he wishes he had a couple of plays back, like all quarterbacks do. That's kind of what we talk about. We're striving for perfection, but it's hard to attain it. But he made some throws, he made some plays, he ran the show. So that's what he does. He's a battler. He's a tough kid."
Defense continues its dominance
After the Browns gave up a touchdown to the 49ers on their opening drive, they began to settle in and limited the 49ers to only a field goal in the second and third quarters. CB Martin Emerson's interception of QB Brock Purdy early in the third also served as turning point for the Browns, as the energy shifted, and they were in command defensively. To Garrett, Emerson's interception showed to the 49ers and those watching that "we're unrelenting and we're not going anywhere."
The Browns held the 49ers to a season-low in both rushing and passing yards. They 49ers totaled 125 passing yards and 108 rushing yards. The 49ers also scored only 17 points, which is their lowest point total this season. It was also the lowest offensive yardage in regular season games for 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan.
"I think our defense had a point to prove today," QB P.J. Walker said. "And they went out there and proved it. They did a hell of a job playing, and they did a hell of a job giving us, as an offense, opportunity to go out there and keep going. And that's all we can ask for as a team, is just continue to battle for each other, keep having each other's back and just go play for each other."
Kevin Stefanski reflected on what the defense was able to do on Sunday, he focused in on Wednesday's practice, highlighting the job of DC Jim Schwartz and the defensive staff.
"I told the team after practice, I said, if you measure a practice by how it sounds, we had the best practice of our season because the energy was off the charts and it was led by the defense," Stefanski said. "It's led by Ogbo (Okoronkwo) and Z (Za'Darius Smith) and Dalvin (Tomlinson) and Juan (Thornhill) and all those guys. JOK (Jeremih Owusu-Koramoah) you name them, they brought the energy all week. They were so excited for this challenge, and I thought Coach (Jim Schwartz) put those guys in position to go make plays."
The Browns celebrate after a win over the San Francisco 49ers on October 15, 2023 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
K Dustin Hopkins excels with late-game field goal
Hopkins kicked a 29-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that would end up winning the game for the Browns. He completed the day connecting on four of five field goal, with field goals of 29, 42, 46 and 50 yards. Hopkins has connected on field goals of 50-plus yards in four consecutive games, which is the longest streak by any Browns player.
Stefanski credited GM Andrew Berry for trading for Hopkins on Aug. 28 as they continue to see the benefits of his addition to the Browns.
Hopkins most crucial kick of the game came under two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Down one point, the Browns had marched down the field but struggled to find their way into the end zone. As Hopkins took the field with 1:43 left on the clock and the Brown, he said he focused on walking through the same keys of what he needs to do to make any kick. His 29-yard field goal attempt was good, putting the Browns up 19-17 – which would end up being the game winner.
Hopkins tried to stay as dry as possible as he could with Sunday's on and off rainy conditions, to keep his cleats dry. He said the wind was also on and off, and the Dawg Pound side of the stadium was tougher to kick for him. He spent time in warmups trying to see how much the flags were moving on the uprights and storing that information for later in the game.
As the Browns prepared throughout the week for their matchup, Hopkins knew there was potential that he might have a number of field goal attempts on Sunday.
"They're great all-around team, so anytime you're playing a team like that, you know that it could be a close game," Hopkins said. "And as funny as it sounds, though, I don't change anything because in any week in the NFL, it's the NFL is weird and crazy, and any team can beat any team on any given Sunday. And so, every week, I'm kind of anticipating close game regardless. And then if it's not, so be it but in my mind mentally preparing every week I think is going to be a close week. That's kind of how I go about it."