All signs pointed to an offensive shootout after Sunday's opening drive.
No one told the Browns defense.
For a second straight week, Cleveland's defense dialed up another magnificent effort and put the clamps on Minnesota's potent, balanced offense. It was similarly tough for the Browns to score, but they did just enough in the second quarter to grab the lead and never let go in a 14-7 victory.
The win moves the Browns to 3-1 for the second straight year. The Vikings fell to 1-3.
"We settled in there after that first draft and played outstanding on the defensive side," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "These games are hard to come by, and you're gonna play against really tough opponents on the road. You've got to go find a way to get a victory.
"It wasn't perfect by any stretch of imagination."
It wasn't the history-making performance from Week 3, but it was equally impressive against a Vikings offense that put up points and yards by the bunch through the first three weeks of the season. The Browns limited Minnesota to 255 yards and kept their opponent to single digits for a second consecutive week. The Vikings were just 5-of-16 on third downs.
It marks the first time since Weeks 2 and 3 of the 1995 season that the Browns limited their opponents to single-digit points in consecutive weeks.
Up until the midpoint of the fourth quarter, the only thing that was missing was a turnover. That changed when Greedy Williams, making his first start since 2019, grabbed his first career interception on a deep ball by Kirk Cousins.
"It's been long," said Williams. "I haven't gotten any interception since September of 2018. This feels amazing, man."
Still, the Vikings got two more shots to tie or potentially win.
Minnesota moved the ball all the way to Cleveland's 33-yard line on its first try, but the Browns put on the brakes, as Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell gobbled up Cousins on fourth down to give the ball back to Cleveland with a little more than a minute to play.
The Vikings got it back after forcing a three-and-out and took the ball inside Cleveland territory after Troy Hill was flagged for pass interference on a fourth-down pass to C.J. Osborn. The Vikings got all the way to the Browns' 32-yard line but ultimately ran out of time, as Cousins' final pass fell incomplete.
Nick Chubb (100 yards) and Kareem Hunt (69) once again paced the Browns offense, leading a rushing attack that cleared 150 yards and found the end zone for the fourth straight game to start the season.
The Browns passing game struggled to generate the kind of yardage and first downs it's been accustomed to getting through the first part of the season. Baker Mayfield completed 15-of-33 passes for 155 yards, throwing just six passes for more than 10 yards.
"The defense was good enough for us to win, especially when I'm playing quarterback like that," Mayfield said. "A lot of easy throws there that I think I missed."
Rashard Higgins led all Browns receivers with four catches for 63 yards.
The Browns punted four straight times in the second half but got a bit of a jolt on their fifth drive when Mayfield connected with Odell Beckham Jr. on a 23-yard pass. The drive stalled shortly thereafter, but Chase McLaughlin salvaged it with a 53-yard field goal — his third make from 50+ in the past two games — to stake the Browns to a seven-point advantage.
"That's a really good defense. And it's a great scheme with great players," Stefanski said. "We had a couple opportunities we didn't make. I mean, you're not going to convert many third downs against that defense. So we just got to stay on the field and find a way to do that."
The first half was a bit of an adventure, but the Browns went to the locker room with an 11-7 advantage by dominating possession of the ball from the midpoint of the second quarter all the way to the halftime whistle.
With 1:33 remaining in the quarter, the Browns were staring at another empty possession but were given new life when Minnesota was flagged for holding on fourth-and-goal. Three plays later, the Browns were in the end zone with a 1-yard Hunt touchdown run. A Vikings penalty on the extra point attempt inspired the Browns to attempt a two-point conversion, and the Browns made the most of it with a short throw to FB Andy Janovich.
Though minimal time remained on the clock, the Browns were able to tack onto their advantage with a 48-yard McLaughlin field goal thanks to a quick Vikings three-and-out and a Hunt's longest run of the season. Faced with a third-and-20, Hunt broke off a 33-yard carry to put the Browns near McLaughlin's range. A 10-yard pass to Higgins got Cleveland even closer, and McLaughlin made his sixth straight field goal to cap the drive.
"I knew it was third-and-20, I heard the play come in and said, all right, just get what you can get," Hunt said. "Then I was like, 'let's go get the whole thing.'"
The Browns fell into a 7-0 hole midway through the first quarter after the Vikings marched 75 yards on 14 plays to open the game. Cousins' 12-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson on third-and-goal capped a drive that included two third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion.
Cleveland tried to match Minnesota's clock-draining possession but came up short on fourth down. Mayfield was sacked on fourth-and-goal from the Vikings' 6-yard line, giving the Browns nothing to show for the 15-play possession.
"It's game four. We got to get better, I have to get better. And that's just the truth," Stefanski said. "We just got to get better in some of these areas and I think we will."