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Game Day

Browns' history-making 1st half the pinnacle of complementary football

Cleveland’s 38-point first half was a collective effort

It wasn't just the offense.

Yes, the Browns' offense was responsible for all 38 points scored in Sunday's historic first half. And yes, that group was humming at a level that hasn't been sustained for that long of a period this entire season. It was a special performance that deserves its due.

But 38 points doesn't just happen because of the efforts of one side of the ball. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski made that clear in his opening statement following the 41-35 victory, as he led with praise of the defense, which made a pivotal fourth-down stop, forced a turnover against one of the most ball-secure teams in the NFL and maintained the momentum with two three-and-outs.

"Our defense played lights out," QB Baker Mayfield said. "To be able to shut the run game down to where we could get up by that much to where they were having to throw the ball, that was our most complete game. I know we did not finish the way we wanted to by any means, but in the first half, that was the most complete game or complete half that we have played."

Sunday's first half was the pinnacle of complementary football, which has guided the Browns all throughout their 9-3 season. 

On most occasions throughout this season, it's one side of the ball lifting up the other when things aren't coming so easy or going so well. On Sunday, it was both sides of the ball lifting the other higher and higher until the first half was over and the Browns carried a 38-7 advantage into halftime.

Asked if the first half went as well as he could have expected, Stefanski said, "it really did."

"I give credit to the players," Stefanski said. "We talked all week about our work during the week was going to be a determining factor in how we play, and the guys worked their butts off all week. They understand what a good operation looks like and what efficient football looks like, and I was proud of how they played."

Check out photos of the Browns against the Titans

The defense picked up the offense after a frustrating finish to its first series.

The Browns drove quickly down the field on the game's opening possession but came up short inside the red zone. A drop and a penalty led to the Browns' only third-down failure of the half, and they ultimately settled for a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.

Tennessee appeared to be humming along on its first possession before it faced a third-and-1 at the Browns' 42-yard line. LB B.J. Goodson broke up a pass intended for a Tennessee offensive lineman to force a fourth down. Cleveland's defensive line took over from there and delivered what would be its biggest play of the game, stuffing 2019 NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry for no gain to give the ball back to the offense.

"That was huge. That was outstanding," Stefanski said. "The guys, we talked all week, that is a tough, tough task to try and slow that player down. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Derrick Henry. The guys came through by being gap sound and gang tackling."

The Browns responded with their first of five consecutive touchdown drives to take a double-digit lead they would maintain for all but the final few seconds. Sprinkled in between was a forced fumble — Henry's first of the season — and two three-and-outs.

The Browns limited Henry to 15 rushing yards in the first half and 60 for the game, his second-lowest output of the season. The Browns forced three turnovers on the day against a Tennessee offense that came into Sunday's game with just five on the entire year.

"That fourth-and-one, the stop, those were takeaways for the defense and that is momentum for the offense to go down there and put some points on the board," DE Myles Garrett said. "You can't understate that, what we do on our side of the ball to get back to them and put them in a good position to put us ahead. That is what they did. They did that all afternoon, and we came out the right side."

The Browns possessed the ball for more than 21 minutes in the first half, a byproduct of the seven third-down conversions on offense and the quick work on defense.

And when the defense had its only letdown of the first half, a four-play, 74-yard Titans touchdown drive that cut into the Browns' early 17-point lead? That's when the offense provided its biggest, fastest response of the game.

Mayfield launched a 75-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones on the Browns' first play of the ensuing drive. It was the start of Cleveland's second scoring run of the half, which ended with 21 unanswered points and a 31-point advantage.

"We got to a point where we could do the things that we wanted to do with no restrictions," WR Jarvis Landry said. "Kevin called an amazing game. Obviously, it is crazy to be up by 30 points going into the half."

It didn't end that way, of course. Maintaining that high level of play for a full 60 minutes is the next goal for a Browns team that had absolutely everything clicking Sunday for a memorable, record-setting first half.

"The first half was better than some, but we could have had touchdowns instead of field goals," Mayfield said. "I just think there are always plays you look back on. We won the game. We need to be proud of that, but we have to continue to improve because some of these plays that we can overcome may be the ones that cost us later down the road."