When Chase McLaughlin felt his foot connect with the football for a 57-yard field goal attempt Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, something didn't feel right.
McLaughlin couldn't pinpoint what felt wrong in the moment — life moves fast when you're attempting to make the longest field goal by a Browns kicker at FirstEnergy Stadium. Perhaps the ball wasn't kicked in the middle. Perhaps the trajectory wasn't high enough. Perhaps his footwork was off.
"It was not my best hit," said McLaughlin, who admitted the ball didn't begin exactly as he visualized before attempting the kick. It started to the left before it began squirting back to the right.
But football is rarely ever perfect for a kicker. McLaughlin, who's on his eighth NFL team in the last three years, is aware of that. All that matters is whether the ball travels through the two yellow poles.
That's what he thought as his 57-yarder veered back toward the middle of the goal posts and sailed into the back net for three points, sending the sold-out crowd of 67,431 into an uproar and allowing McLaughlin to take a sigh of relief as he knocked helmets with his teammates.
"When it came off and it was good, I turned to (P) Jamie (Gillan) pretty quickly," McLaughlin said. "Again, it was not my best hit, but it felt good."
McLaughlin played the best game of his three-year career Sunday and continued his perfect start to the season by nailing all four of his field goal attempts and two extra points in the Browns' 26-6 Week 3 win over the Bears. The 57-yarder was McLaughlin's career high and is tied for the third-longest in franchise history. No Browns kicker had converted on a longer kick since Steve Cox connected from 60 yards in 1984.
McLaughlin said he didn't realize it was the longest kick ever from a Browns kicker at FirstEnergy Stadium until he saw the fact displayed on the video board later in the game.
"It was something pretty cool," he said, "but I just have to finish out the game and finish strong."
McLaughlin did just that — and he wasn't done making history, either.
Three drives after he hit the 57-yarder, the Browns brought him out again for a kick from 52 yards. That kick sailed through the uprights, too, and solidified McLaughlin as one of two Browns kickers to convert on two kicks of 50 yards or more in the same game. The other was Phil Dawson, who achieved the feat three times across his 14-season career with the Browns.
"He was on point today," quarterback Baker Mayfield said. "That's a great bail-out, when you're playing a team that's obviously very stiff on the defensive side of the ball. Being able to get three points on some of these drives is important. For him to kick like that, that's pretty special."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Bears yesterday by the Browns photo team
Just one month removed from claiming the Browns' kicking job following an injury to Cody Parkey, McLaughlin has been among the Browns' most reliable players. He's converted all five field goal kicks and nine extra point attempts this season, a remarkable start after becoming one of the NFL's top journeymen since he entered the league as an undrafted player in 2019. Since the spring of 2019, McLaughlin has spent stints with the Bills, Vikings, Chargers, 49ers, Colts, Vikings (again), Jaguars and Jets.
"I've had a ton of confidence in him," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "That's because I see him do it at practice. He goes out there in pregame and had a really good warmup, so we feel good about the length of that 57-yarder, and he's been very consistent. That's what we're going to need from him moving forward."
Now, he's in Cleveland and making the most of every opportunity. His form of consistency started in training camp, where McLaughlin still wasn't perfect but did enough to convince special teams coordinator Mike Priefer that he was good enough to be the Browns' kicker for 2021.
"He has had a good camp. As I told him – he and I have had good discussions – he has not had a great camp, but he had a good camp," Priefer said on Sept. 9. "I think he's a solid good kicker who has bounced around the league a little bit as kind of a fill-in for guys when they were hurt. Now, he has had his opportunity – some people say that it might be by default, but I figured he was well on his way to winning that job anyway. I think he has done enough to win the job.
"We expect Chase to be very successful. I hope he goes out and kicks well and he is our kicker for the entire year."
That's always been the goal for McLaughlin, and Sunday's historic performance backed that up.
The Browns, of course, will need McLaughlin to stay consistent for every game, but he's continued to give the Browns cushion and confidence when it comes to drilling tricky kicks. That's a bonus for a team that will likely soon play in windy conditions for most home games late in the season.
McLaughlin is confident he can keep it going. After Sunday's win, the Browns certainly are, too.
"Having Stefanski have the trust in me to put me out there and just give me the opportunity, I am super thankful for it," McLaughlin said. "I'm glad I could make it for the team."