Browns fans waited nearly two years for a day like Sunday, and they were treated to the kind of result they've come to expect at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns were a little sloppy out of the gate and had to weather a couple of injury scares along the way, but they buckled down in the second half and finished strong on their way to a 31-21 victory over the Houston Texans.
The Browns moved to 1-1 with their first win of the 2021 season and first game back on the shores of Lake Erie since they clinched a trip to the playoffs in Week 17 of the 2020 regular season.
"A good team win," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I thought the crowd was outstanding and in their seats right at the kickoff so I hope they are back at the Muni Lot already but nice job. They helped affect the game. They did a nice job. It was not always clean, especially in that first half. I did not think it was really clean football, but we had guys step up and make plays really throughout the game."
Baker Mayfield started off hot before putting a brief scare into the 67,895 in attendance when he went down with an apparent shoulder injury. Mayfield never missed a snap, though, as he finished 19-of-21 for 213 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also had a 5-yard rushing touchdown, which officially served notice Mayfield would be just fine on this Sunday.
Even after making a quick trip to the locker room, Mayfield said he never doubted whether he'd be able to return to the game.
"Obviously, not an ideal situation," Mayfield said. "It kind of popped in and out, but I will be good. Nothing too serious."
Nick Chubb (11 carries, 95 yards) and Kareem Hunt (13 carries, 51 yards) powered a Browns rushing attack that picked up steam as the afternoon progressed and put the game away in the fourth quarter. Chubb's 26-yard touchdown run with 5:52 to play capped the kind of game-sealing drive Cleveland utilized throughout its 2020 playoff run.
"I thought Nick had as few runs that you could kind of feel were getting the crowd going when he was breaking a few tackles, and Kareem was real close if he did not get tripped on that one," Mayfield said. "Those guys run so hard. We are really blessed to have the offensive line that we do and those two backs. To be able to put one of them in that is fresh and go out there and do their thing, we are very lucky to have that."
The Browns lost veteran Jarvis Landry to a knee injury on the second play of the game and relied on a heavy dose of tight ends to pace the passing attack. Austin Hooper (five catches, 40 yards), Harrison Bryant (four catches, 49 yards) and David Njoku (two catches, 18 yards) combined for 11 catches and 107 yards while rookie RB Demetric Felton delivered the first two catches of his NFL career with flair, scoring from 33 yards on a third-quarter touchdown and adding another 18 on a catch that got Cleveland rolling on its game-sealing drive.
"We are going to continue to try and get him the ball and see how teams are going to try and defend him because he is one of those hybrid guys that may create some mismatch problems, and if they want to take a safety or another DB to cover him, then that means one of our tight ends has a linebacker," Mayfield said. "We have to play it to our advantage, and we are lucky to have him."
The Browns took the lead for good after their first possession of the second half.
Cleveland methodically drove into field goal range before a holding penalty set up second-and-19 from the Texans' 33. Mayfield dropped back and threw a quick screen to Felton, who shook off some would-be tacklers, made a few more miss with a spin move and utilized some key blocks on his way into the end zone. The 33-yard touchdown was the first of Felton's NFL career on the first reception of his career.
"It was awesome. It was a great experience," Felton said. "Everyone did their job, blocked for me, and I was able to get in the end zone."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Texans in week two
The Texans, who played with rookie Davis Mills at QB for the entire second half after Tyrod Taylor exited with a hamstring injury, sliced the lead to a field goal with 11:32 to play after a lengthy scoring drive that was capped by a Brandin Cooks touchdown. The Browns delivered a definitive response with Hunt and Chubb leading the way on their ensuing nine-play, 82-yard drive.
"If you put it in our hands, the running backs and the O-line, I am sure we will get the job done, which we have done in the past," Chubb said. "It comes down to how we practice and our mentality to run the ball, even when they know we are running the ball. If you put in our hands, we will do our best job to get the job done."
The Browns committed two turnovers and dealt with two injury scares in a topsy turvy start to their home opener. Still, they took a 14-14 tie into the locker room thanks to a run-dominant drive on their final possession of the half.
Landry was sidelined with a knee injury after hauling in a catch on Cleveland's opening drive. Mayfield, meanwhile, was forced to make a quick trip to the locker room after suffering an apparent injury to his non-throwing shoulder. Mayfield was in on the tackle following his second-quarter interception, was slow to get up and required some assistance to get back on the field. He was back for the following drive, and he capped the 10-play, 75-yard possession with a 5-yard touchdown run with 1:14 left in the half.
Cleveland's defense struggled to contain Taylor, who completed 10-of-11 passes for 125 yards in the first half before exiting with a hamstring injury. Twenty-two of those yards came on a touchdown pass to RB Phillip Lindsay that tied the score, 7-7, with 5:18 to play in the first quarter. Taylor gave the Texans the lead after Mayfield's interception when he capped Houston's drive with a 15-yard touchdown run.
"The first 15 was tough," DE Myles Garrett said. "They were doing things that we weren't really seeing in them before. It was a combination of that and trying to switch up their tendencies a bit, and we just have to adjust."
The Browns took advantage of a Houston turnover to take an early lead. Sione Takitaki recovered a muffed punt, and Cleveland pounced first with a 29-yard Harrison Bryant catch and then a 1-yard touchdown run by FB Andy Janovich.
The Browns are back in action at FirstEnergy Stadium next Sunday when they host the Bears.
"It needs to be loud when people come play in Cleveland," Mayfield said. "This is a traditional and very historically rich franchise that it needs to be a place where people when they have to come here they know it is going to be loud. We have another home game next week. Hopefully, we get the same atmosphere."