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Game Day

Browns running game delivers 2nd-half knockout punch

Freddie Kitchens had a message to deliver to the Browns in the locker room at halftime Sunday against the Bengals.

The head coach wanted to let everyone know that the Browns' running game was going to be emphasized in the second half. That was the change Cleveland needed to make if it wanted to defeat a team with only one win and the worst rushing defense in the league.

The plan worked, and the Browns rushed for 116 yards in the second half to beat the Bengals, 27-19, for their fourth win of the season at FirstEnergy Stadium.

"When I told them at halftime that we're going to run the ball, they trusted that I was going to run the ball," Kitchens said. "That's what I told them we were about to do, and they did a good job of going out and executing."

Check out photos of the Browns in action against the Bengals

So, why did Kitchens feel the need to make that a message in the locker room?

The Browns sparingly used Nick Chubb, who entered Sunday as the NFL's leading rusher, in the first half. Chubb only received three carries for 7 yards. Kareem Hunt was a non-factor, too, and only carried the ball three times for 10 yards.

The lack of production made Kitchens turn to his passing game, but things didn't necessarily click there, either. Quarterback Baker Mayfield threw two interceptions in the first quarter and ended the half 7-for-16 with 114 yards.

The Browns went into halftime with only a 14-13 lead. Something had to change.

The stats made the fix seem obvious.

"We looked at the amount of plays we had passed over the running game," Mayfield said. "We didn't run the ball as much as we wanted to in the first half. The flow of the game did that. We wanted to establish (the run game) and take the ball out of their hands and control the clock."

The Browns didn't take long to answer Kitchens' message.

Cleveland started its first drive of the second half with four consecutive runs, and the last of those ended up being the longest play of the game.

After patiently waiting in the backfield for a seam, Chubb made a cut and exploded up the middle, where he saw an even bigger hole.

It was far from an easy run, though. He shed one tackler at the line of scrimmage before delivering a quick stiff-arm to Darqueze Dennard, and he didn't get touched again until the 14-yard line when he broke away from another tackle attempt from Germaine Pratt.

William Jackson finally brought Chubb down at the 3-yard line for a 57-yard run — the Browns rushing game was back.

Two plays later, Hunt rushed the ball outside and walked into the end zone untouched for the score.

The drive rundown was exactly what the Browns envisioned in the locker room. Six plays, five carries, 75 yards and six points.

"We were both like, 'Somebody (is going to do it). Who is going to do it? Who is going to be the first one?" Hunt said. "He definitely made a great read and a great run. He got a little bit tired, and I was able to come in and no drop-off."

The long run propelled Chubb to a 106-yard performance, the sixth time he's broken 100 rushing yards this season. Chubb is now ninth in franchise history with 1,281 rushing yards in a single season with three games left.

His performance picked up a rough day from Mayfield, who finished 11-for-24 with 192 yards and a 38.9 quarterback rating, his second lowest of the season.

But the Browns still got the win, and that's what mattered. Cleveland is 4-1 in its last five games and is still alive in the AFC Wild Card race.

The win Sunday was far from the cleanest game the Browns have played all season, but the Browns fulfilled the goal Kitchens has preached for the last month: Go 1-0 each week.

And the credit Sunday goes to a revamped run game in the second half.

"We are going to enjoy it tonight," Kitchens said. "I know it is a cliché, but we are going to start tomorrow trying to go 1-0 next week. That is the only thing we care about."