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Browns D rises to the challenge to down Eagles

Cleveland moves to 7-3 with its 2nd straight win

Same crummy weather, same winning recipe.

More than experienced in adverse elements, the Browns delivered again Sunday for their second straight win. They used the right mix of stout defense, opportunistic plays in pivotal moments and dominant running from Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the fourth quarter to take down the Eagles, 22-17, at a rain-drenched FirstEnergy Stadium.

"There is no such thing as an ugly win," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "That was a beautiful win for the guys." 

The win, Cleveland's third in its last four games, moved the Browns to 7-3 and into sole possession of second place in the AFC North. The Eagles fell to 3-6-1.

Nick Chubb's 54-yard run with 10:40 to play in the fourth quarter set up Cleveland's game-sealing touchdown and served as yet another reminder the Browns running game only seems to get better as the game progresses. Chubb finished with 114 yards, giving him four 100-yard games on the season.

"It felt good. That is what we are about," Chubb said. "We keep plugging, we keep plugging and keep hitting it. We know one is going to come sooner or later, and it came at a perfect time."

Cleveland rushed for 86 of its 137 yards in the fourth quarter one week after picking up 148 in the final 15 minutes.

"We were searching for the right personnel group and searching for the right scheme versus them," Stefanski said. "That is a good run team. They played downhill until they were gassed. We knew it was not going to be easy. They come off the ball so we kind of were poking around looking for the right run scheme for our guys.

"I think we kind of unlocked it a little bit there at the end and were able to get again some hard yards."

Baker Mayfield made the most of his 12 completions and finished with 204 yards and no interceptions for a third straight game. KhaDarel Hodge hauled in a 42-yarder and led the Browns with three catches for 73 yards. Rashard Higgins was close behind with three catches for 65.

The Browns defense, playing without Pro Bowl pass rusher Myles Garrett — who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday — never stopped bringing the pressure on Eagles QB Carson Wentz, hitting him repeatedly, sacking him five times and forcing him into a number of regrettable decisions. Veteran Olivier Vernon had three of those sacks, one of which resulting in a momentum-shifting safety late in the third quarter.

"With Myles out, we were counting on those guys to step up. OV, he did it today," Stefanski said. "He was defeating his blockers in run game, he was getting to the quarterback. We are counting on him. I told him that. He knows that. We are counting on him to continue to affect the passer in the pass game and make big plays in the run game." 

Cleveland's defense got back to its turnover-forcing ways with three big ones — the first of which took a potential touchdown away from the Eagles and the second of which went straight into the end zone for the team's second defensive touchdown of the season. Denzel Ward intercepted Wentz with 2:01 to play to end an Eagles last-gasp drive.

The Browns defense has surrendered 17 points or fewer in each of the past three games. Cleveland surrendered 30+ points in five of its first seven games didn't allow fewer than 20 in any of them.

"Everybody was just focused on coming in and doing their job," Ward said. "That was just the main focus is doing what we have to do on that field. Everything else took care of itself. We were able to come out with the win. Definitely looking forward to getting Myles back whenever we can. He is obviously a big addition to our team. Guys stepped up today and made plays."

Wentz finished 21-of-35 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Eagles found early success on the ground with 96 rushing yards in the first half, but the Browns bottled them up in the second half, limiting them to 10 the rest of the way.

Check out photos of the Eagles against the Browns

After an Eagles field goal sliced into Cleveland's lead with 11:24 to play in the game, the Browns delivered the definitive answer on the following drive.

Stuffed for small gains all day, Chubb finally broke free and made the Eagles pay, rushing 54 yards on a highlight-reel run that featured a debilitating stiff-arm. The Browns found the end zone a couple of plays later when Kareem Hunt hurdled a defender and powered his way toward the pylon for a 5-yard touchdown, staking Cleveland to an insurmountable nine-point advantage.

The Browns are 7-0 this season when Chubb or Hunt score.

"We have the best backfield in the league. There is no question," Mayfield said. "Those guys are top five backs each, and there is something special. We have great guys up front and our tight ends are involved in that run game, but those two guys are extremely special. I get more excited when Nick and Kareem make great plays than when I do just to be quite honest with you guys.

"I love watching those guys run."

Trailing 22-10, the Eagles tacked on a touchdown with 30 seconds to play. Cleveland recovered the onside kick and took a knee to officially end it.

The Eagles tied the score, 7-7, early in the third quarter after Mayfield's first fumble of the season.

DT Fletcher Cox plowed through the line and stripped the ball out of Mayfield's hands, giving the ball back to Philadelphia at the 22-yard line. Wentz followed with a touchdown pass to TE Richard Rodgers on the very next play.

Mayfield's 42-yard connection with Hodge on the ensuing possession set up a Cody Parkey 46-yard field goal, which put the Browns back on top, 10-7, with 8:59 left in the third quarter.

"It is huge for us just to be able to keep defenses on their toes and just all of those were off to play-action shots," Mayfield said. "We are making stuff look similar to run and pass. These guys are doing a good job of just securing the ball for us in these weather games. It is a huge part of our offense." 

Cleveland's special teams unit delivered later in the quarter, too, as Jamie Gillan's 46-yard punt pinned the Eagles inside their 2-yard line. On third-and-long, Vernon plowed through the line to drop Wentz inside the end zone for his third sack and, more importantly, a safety to extend Cleveland's advantage to 12-7 heading into the fourth quarter.

Sione Takitaki made the biggest play of his Browns career to put Cleveland ahead early in the second quarter.

The second-year linebacker was in the right place at the right time, as CB Denzel Ward caught Wentz by surprise with a delayed blitz as he attempted a short pass. The ball fluttered right into Takitaki's hands, and he ran untouched 50 yards back the other way for the first pick-six of his career.

"I train every day, week-in, week-out to go out there and make these splash plays and help the team," Takitaki said. "I felt good to finally get those feelings back and continue to work and grow to help my team.

"It was a great feeling, a feeling you want to feel, every time you step on that field.

The touchdown — the lone scoring play of Sunday's first half — was the second of the season for Cleveland's defense, which has thrived off turnovers throughout the season but hadn't forced one in the previous two games.

The Browns' best offensive possession of the first half ended with no points. Mayfield connected on a 43-yard pass to Higgins to get deep into Eagles territory, and the Browns found themselves at the 1-yard line with four tries to score after an Eagles pass interference penalty. Mayfield missed a wide-open Austin Hooper for a touchdown on second-and-goal, and Hunt came up just short on his fourth-and-goal run to give the ball back to Philadelphia.

Fortunately for the Browns, Philadelphia's best offensive possession of the half — its first of the game — ended with zero points, too. The Browns were backed up inside their 10-yard line after a number of big Eagles runs, but the defense stepped up by forcing a fumble. Rookie DT Jordan Elliott forced it out of Miles Sanders' hands, and Karl Joseph fell on it to prevent the Eagles from jumping out to an early lead.

The Browns are back in action next Sunday when they travel to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars.

"I think when we have a singular focus and that singular mindset of just one game at a time and we can be pretty good," Mayfield said. "Not lose sight of the big picture, one game at a time but job is not finished yet."

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