1. What could go right did go right
There wasn’t just one victory kneel. There were two.
For the Browns, this win wasn’t anything like the first two they picked up earlier in the season. And, frankly, it wasn’t anything like the victory it had near the end of 2016.
It’d been three years since Cleveland won a game the way it did Sunday over the Falcons. The Browns led for almost the entire game, pulled away in the third quarter and never let Atlanta within a single score in the fourth. The 12-point margin was Cleveland’s biggest since a Dec. 13, 2015, win over the 49ers.
“Good team win,” coach Gregg Williams said. “Played well in all three phases. Played in a good, synchronized, complementary fashion.”
There were plenty of firsts required to create this kind of victory. All of them played a hand in what was easily the team’s most complete performance of the season.
– Cleveland found the end zone in the first quarter for the first time all season. Baker Mayfield connected with Rashard Higgins on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 4:36 to play. From that point forward, the Browns led for all but 4 minutes.
– The Browns offense, which has struggled to capitalize on the league-leading number of turnovers its defense has forced this season, did what it had to do after T.J. Carrie forced a fumble early in the third quarter. Cleveland responded with a six-play, 41-yard drive that was capped by a Duke Johnson 11-yard touchdown reception.
– Mayfield didn’t take a sack or throw an interception.
– The Browns limited the Falcons to just 71 rushing yards. In the previous four games, they’d allowed an average of 166.75.
– The ball bounced Cleveland’s way. The one hit Mayfield took sent the ball squirting out, but Mayfield recovered it himself and picked up some yards. When the Falcons thought they’d recovered a Duke Johnson fumble, a replay review overturned the call and gave the ball back to the Browns.
The list goes on and on. And in the immediate aftermath, the Browns were confident they could repeat this kind of performance following the bye week.
“We have been very close for a little bit,” Mayfield said. “We just finally played well on all three phases. We played together, and the defense was getting stops. We complemented them and scored so that is the good part of what we are doing right now. We have been very close. We capitalized on it this week.”
Photos: Browns host Falcons in Week 10
The Cleveland Browns play the Atlanta Falcons at FirstEnergy Stadium in Week 10.
2. Baker Mayfield woke up feeling dangerous, and he played like it
Mayfield felt like he was poised for a big game the moment he woke up Sunday morning.
“I was feeling pretty dangerous,” Mayfield said. “I just woke up feeling really dangerous.”
What followed was not just the kind of performance Cleveland needed, but also one that wound up as one of the most efficient in Browns history.
Mayfield completed 17-of-20 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. His quarterback rating of 151.2 was the fifth-best in Cleveland history and best in 40 years. His three touchdowns tied for the most thrown by a Browns rookie quarterback.
Perhaps most importantly, it was the second straight encouraging performance from Mayfield after a rough outing at Pittsburgh. He’s 46-of-62 with 513 yards, five touchdowns and an interception since the Browns made changes at head coach and offensive coordinator. He's only been sacked twice.
“It goes back to show how he worked this week and the little nuances that he corrected this week was right,” Williams said. “That helps the confidence on continuing to push that same way with a few little technique things that he had to do. If you have not played the position, it is the balance of the throwing position. He corrected his balance and was very accurate. It was good to see.”
Throughout the week, Mayfield’s teammates lauded him for the steady hand he’s shown throughout the Browns’ losing streak and coaching changes. After Cleveland’s final touchdown of the game, Mayfield went to the bench and shook the hands of all five of his starting offensive linemen.
It’s the little things that have made a big difference for the Browns under center.
“He is just a great leader, and you know no matter what is going on around us or outside noise just the bad stuff that has not gone well for us, he is going to give us all 100 percent and he is not going to let it affect him,” running back Nick Chubb said. “Guys, we like that we like that in our quarterback and our leader, and he is fiercely competitive. He gives 100 percent every play. Just being on the team with him, everyone just likes it and loves him and loves who he is.”
3. Freddie Kitchens wasn’t lying
On Thursday, Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens said he was trying to get the Wishbone back in Cleveland’s offensive playbook. The comment drew laughs, but there was plenty of truth in what Kitchens said.
The Browns deployed a three-running back formation for an entire series in Sunday’s second quarter. All three of the backs touched the ball at least once, and some touched it twice on a single play. After three first downs and 42 yards of offense, the drive ended in unfortunate fashion when Dontrell Hilliard’s pass -- yes, pass -- to Mayfield was intercepted by Falcons safety Damontae Kazee.
“Maybe I need to have Baker teach Hilliard about 7-on-7 drills or something,” Williams said.
Browns offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said the team installed part of the package leading up to the team’s Week 8 loss to the Steelers. Obviously, it was a much heavier focus in this week’s practices.
At the least, it will be another thing opponents have to rep in practice when they prepare for the Browns.
“It is just a different look,” Mayfield said. “It is something that we worked a little bit. It was great. Even though we had a turnover, if we would have completed that ball, everybody would have been saying, ‘They are brilliant.’
“We threw a different look. We moved the ball well. It was just a thing to switch up the tempo, and I think it was great for our offense.”