In the third quarter of a tied game between the Browns and the 49ers at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday, one of the top offenses in the league clashed with one of the best defenses. 49ers QB Brock Purdy received a snap and threw an errant pass behind WR Brandon Aiyuk, and the ball ended up in the hands of CB Martin Emerson Jr.
Emerson held onto the ball and returned the interception for 14 yards, giving the Browns offense another chance on the field. Not only was it Emerson's first career interception, but it was also Purdy's first of the season.
As the Browns watched Emerson intercept Purdy's pass, it motivated the rest of the Browns defensive backs to get one for themselves.
"That got us going," CB Denzel Ward said. "You get that interception, that just keeps the crowd going, keep the energy going in the stadium."
The Browns defense made a number of plays Sunday. They had three pass deflections, a tackle for loss and 24 tackles. The Browns had to match the physicality of the 49ers while detecting their offensive tendencies, and they did that — especially the defensive backs who only allowed six catches to receivers. They also allowed only one catch to their star TE George Kittle for one yard.
The Browns defensive backs limited the 49ers to just 125 receiving yards, which is the lowest they have been held to this season. Cleveland also held Purdy to a 44.4 completion percentage. Previously, Purdy's lowest completion percentage this year was 65 percent. According to Nick Wagoner, a 49ers ESPN reporter, the Browns limited Purdy to only 7.5 QBR while playing man-to-man coverage. They employed this coverage in 71 percent of his drop-backs and were able to put significant pressure on him, doing so on 47 percent of those drop-backs.
This season, the Browns have allowed the third fewest yards by a team through its first five games since 1970, with 1,002 yards allowed. According to Pro Football Focus, the Browns are allowing 143.8 passing yards per game this season.
"You know when we do our job, we win," S Rodney McLeod said. "And then it's we the best. And those are the two that stay constant within our room as a secondary, because it's true when we lock in, when we play discipline, complementary football and have a great deal of focus and everything is aligning the way it's supposed to, we are the best."
The defensive backs have been telling themselves they are the best in the league. It's been their goal as a unit to continue to prove it on a weekly basis. Ward believed they have showcased what they are capable of, and they have to continue to be consistent in their efforts. Sunday's matchup against one of the best offenses was their chance to let the world know something they believed since Week 1.
After Sunday's game filled with joy, CB Greg Newsome II said in all caps on X, "We the BEST in the World." He also told reporters that the defensive backs, in particular, have always believed they were the best group in the league.
"We say it all the time," Newsome said following Sunday's game. "We're the best in the world, as a defense and particularly as a secondary. Preaching that every single week and for MJ (Martin Emerson Jr.) to get his first career pick is amazing. He played great. He's one of the best in the league, so it's good to see him get his first one."