Four different teams from three different divisions. The final results and respective levels of drama have been different week to week, but the Browns have used the same winning formula to register their best start to a season in 26 years.
The Browns jumped on the Colts early Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, took the lead for good in the second quarter and carried it the rest of the way thanks to an opportunistic, turnover-hungry defense to win their fourth straight game. The 32-23 victory wasn't always pretty and forced the Browns to dig deep into their depth on both sides of the ball, but it was another showcase of the complementary football that's been the central theme thus far for the 2020 Browns.
Just enough offense, just enough defense and enough plays when it mattered most to leave with a win.
"I think that was a great team win," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "That was all about the team. It was not pretty at times. It was not perfect. Offensively, we did not put our defense in a great spot very often in that second half, but for us to come away with a pick-six and a safety was outstanding. A great team win."
At 4-1, the Browns are off to their best start since 1994, when they went 6-1 to start the season. The Colts fell to 3-2, snapping a three-game winning streak.
Baker Mayfield was lights out in a 20-point first half before an up and down second in which the Browns offense couldn't find the end zone. He finished 21-of-37 for 247 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, the second of which coming after he took a hard hit that required brief medical attention. Mayfield had his ribs examined after the game and X-Rays were negative.
"I think that was the worst game I have played out of the five so far. I have to get better," Mayfield said. "A lot to learn from, but we learned on that defense and we got the yards when we needed it. The good thing about it is we do not have to learn from a loss – we can get better after a win."
Check out photos of the Colts against the Browns
Kareem Hunt found the end zone for the sixth time this season and led the Browns' ground game with 72 yards. Jarvis Landry led all receivers with four catches for 88 yards, and Rashard Higgins found the end zone for the first time this season.
The Browns took the lead for good early in the second quarter in this one but couldn't quite put the Colts away until the very end. Unlike previous weeks, the Browns' running game never really got going against Indianapolis' stout defense — 33 carries, 124 yards — and that led to a second half in which the Colts dominated possession of the ball.
"[The Colts] made some plays," Stefanski said. "We could not get in a rhythm. We did not rip any runs out of there. That is a very good defense. I think everybody knows that. We traded some body blows, but a credit to them for making life hard on us."
The Browns' two-possession lead, which it held for most of the second half, was sliced to one when the Colts kicked a short field goal to make the score, 29-23, with 2:50 to play. Indianapolis looked like it'd be giving the ball back when the Browns faced a third-and-9 with 2:27 to play, but D'Ernest Johnson broke free for a 28-yard gain to all but put the game away. Cody Parkey's 46-yard field goal with 21 seconds to play sealed it.
A wild start to the second half left the Browns right where they started it — leading by 10.
In his first start with the Browns, Ronnie Harrison found the end zone for his first career touchdown when he stepped in front of a Philip Rivers pass intended for T.Y. Hilton and ran it back untouched for a 47-yard pick-six. The highlight-reel play was the first of two Browns' interceptions of Rivers in the second half, as Sheldrick Redwine had the other at a pivotal moment in the fourth quarter.
"That was outstanding. Again, we needed it. That is what great team wins are," Stefanski said. "Oftentimes, when one side of the ball is not getting it done, the other side picks them up. That was outstanding. Obviously, we can't let happen what happened on that kickoff there with the ball coming back down for a touchdown for them. That is obviously not playing complementary football. We have to be better there, but Ronnie's pick was huge."
The Browns' 17-point advantage off the Harrison interception, though, lasted for all of a few seconds.
On the ensuing kickoff, Isaiah Rodgers zigged and zagged his way to a 101-yard return for a touchdown to make the score, 27-17, with 12 minutes left in the quarter.
The Colts drew within a touchdown on a field goal with less than 4 minutes to play in the third, but the Browns quickly extended their lead to nine early in the fourth when the Colts were flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone. That penalty was a direct result of pressure from Myles Garrett, who forced Rivers to airmail a throw out of bounds with no one in the vicinity.
"They had the momentum and were backed up," Garrett said. "We needed a play to be made, and I am greedy when it comes to that. I want to make that big play. I want to make the play to put us over the top. Fortunately, I was able to. I was not able to get him down and take the ball away in the end zone for six, but we will take two and the ball."
The Browns found out early this wasn't going to be like previous weeks with its No. 1-ranked running attack. The Colts, one of the best in the league at stopping the run, made sure of it and forced Mayfield to beat them with his arm.
For the first 30 minutes, that's exactly what he did, as the Browns methodically marched down the field on all three of their first-half possessions and scored points at the end of them.
The Browns took an early lead with a field goal and rebounded nicely after Indianapolis took the lead on a Jonathan Taylor. Mayfield made some of his best throws of the season on the ensuing possession, which spanned nearly 7 minutes and ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunt.
The Colts evened the score at 10 with a Rodrigo Blankenship field goal midway through the second quarter, and the Browns responded with another touchdown drive. Lined up in the slot, Higgins ran straight toward the end zone with no one around him, and Mayfield fired a 15-yard pass for the score.
Mayfield was 19-of-28 for 228 yards in the first half.
The Browns capped the half with a 36-yard Parkey field goal to take a 20-10 lead.
The Browns will look to make it five in a row next week when they travel to Pittsburgh.