For a few minutes Sunday at AT&T Stadium, everything the Browns showed in their first three quarters of dominant football appeared to become meaningless.
Cleveland, which once held a 27-point lead when it entered the fourth quarter of a big road matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, was now only leading by three points. The offense had hummed in both the running and passing attack, and the defense was forcing turnovers and creating stops against Dallas' plethora of offensive weapons.
None of that mattered, though, when the Cowboys stormed back in the fourth quarter. Nerves were settling in. The clock couldn't hit zero soon enough. Could the Browns hang on?
"We knew we were going to have to weather the storm," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "It got tight there at the end. We needed all 60 minutes."
Yes, it did get tight — very tight. But at the end of the madness, the Browns had found enough big plays to seal a 49-38 win over the Cowboys and clinch their first 3-1 start to a season since 2001. The win came against a formidable NFC opponent, too, and even though the game ended much closer than the Browns would've preferred, the victory was still fulfilling.
"This is a hard-working team," quarterback Baker Mayfield said. "We had guys that were resilient today. We're so proud of the guys who stepped up. We made the plays we needed to, and that's the most important part."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Dallas Cowboys
The majority of those big plays came in the first three quarters, and they were kickstarted by a big-name player in an unfamiliar position.
Jarvis Landry fooled the Cowboys defense when he turned sideways and looked at Odell Beckham Jr. running with a clear path to the end zone. Landry, who had a clean pocket due to the play's excellent trickery, heaved the 37-yard pass perfectly into Beckham's hands for an all-time career highlight, and the Browns had struck first for a 7-0 lead in improbable fashion.
"We have been repping that for a while, and it has been on that call sheet staring at me," Stefanski said. "I told those guys we were not going another week without that thing getting called."
The play worked, but it was only a small fraction of the madness that lied ahead.
Cleveland made a mess of the Cowboys defense in the second quarter when it scored 24 unanswered points and went into halftime with 31 points, the most they've scored in a first half since 1991. The defense, meanwhile, recovered two fumbles to set Cleveland up for its scoring frenzy by continuing to create turnovers at a torrid pace, and the Browns' second fumble recovery in the second quarter was their seventh takeaway in the previous six quarters.
All was well with Cleveland, which added another 10 points in the third quarter, but the game — much to the surprise of anyone who saw the 41-14 score before the fourth quarter — was far from finished.
Dallas roared back with three touchdowns in less than 12 minutes. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who led the Cowboys to an impressive 19-point comeback win in Week 2, found his groove, and the Browns were suddenly desperate for a few more big plays to lengthen what became just a three-point lead with 3 minutes to play.
"They were getting the ball off quick," defensive end Myles Garrett said. "We just have to find a way. When it's a quick ball like that, you just have to try to get your hands up and deflect some of them to get to the next down, making them drop back and hold the ball a little bit."
Beckham put any thoughts of a miraculous Cowboys comeback to a stop on one play.
When he ran around Mayfield to take a handoff, he originally appeared to be stuck behind the line of scrimmage. Most of the Cowboys' defensive front seven sniffed out the play, and a loss of yards would've spelled disaster for the Browns.
Beckham, however, eluded the defenders and somehow broke free. He only had a few other defensive backs in front of him by the time he crossed the first-down marker and he lost all of them with one simple cut back to the middle.
Then, he was running across the blue turf in the end zone.
"It was weird," Beckham said with a smile. "I turned the corner and everybody was blocking. I was about to slide, and I just turned the jets on and got in the end zone."
The final big play needed to come from the defense, and no one was surprised at who made it.
Denzel Ward knew he had an interception ahead of him when Prescott targeted a pass to Amari Cooper inside Browns territory. Ward dove in front of Cooper to corral the ball and give the Browns their final sigh of relief.
With Ward's catch, the madness was finally over.
"He's a playmaker, he's a difference maker," Garrett said. "He's been a big force before and he's going to continue to. I'm proud of my guy."
Deep breaths were needed from everyone involved, but the win was secured. The Browns took down one of the top offenses in the league and proved their offense can win in a variety of forms.
RB Nick Chubb left in the second quarter with a leg injury, but Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard carried the load to full efficiency and helped the Browns reach 307 rushing yards, their most in a game since 2009 and most ever from any team against the Cowboys.
"So proud of those guys who stepped up, but it speaks volumes on our offensive line, as well," Mayfield said. "Just that whole group as a unit, they take so much pride in running the ball and establishing that run game like we keep talking about. Our guys ran extremely hard."
The Browns should have one of their happiest flights home in quite some time. They're going into territory the franchise hasn't seen in nearly two decades, and they're doing it in ways Stefanski envisioned when he became head coach in January.
Well, he didn't envision the fourth-quarter scares, but he envisioned big wins against big teams.
That's what the Browns found Sunday in Dallas.
"It was good to get a win today," Stefanski said, "a team win today."