The Browns won, 41-16, on Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals, which means it's time to give away a round of game balls to those who helped Cleveland secure its fifth win of the season.
Game Ball No. 1 - Denzel Ward
Cleveland received contributions from nearly every star player on both sides of the ball Sunday, but no player made more of an impact, perhaps, than CB Denzel Ward.
Ward built the best game of his career with a pick-six and three pass deflections to thwart several big-play opportunities from a Bengals offense loaded with young talent. No play was bigger than his interception, which happened when the Bengals drove down to the Browns' 3-yard line on their opening drive.
Ward sniffed out a quick pass attempt from Joe Burrow to Ja'Marr Chase, the fifth overall pick of the 2021 draft, at the 1-yard line, and Ward proceeded to run the ball back the other way for a 99-yard touchdown. There was little doubt from Ward he'd be able to run it back as soon as the ball was thrown, and his play helped the Browns build a seven-point lead before the offense even stepped on the field.
"I knew as soon as I caught it I was gone," he said. "There was just one receiver out with me, I was covering Chase. I knew I had the rest of the field to myself. They ended up getting some angles, but my guys did a great job getting the blocks."
Ward's play ignited a three-turnover day from the defense, which entered Week 9 with just five takeaways on the year. He was responsible for the third turnover, too, after his pass deflection led to an interception by safety John Johnson III.
"(Ward) is a great football player, and you need your great football players to play great," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He played great today."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Bengals in Week Nine
Game Ball No. 2 - Greg Newsome II
Ward wasn't alone in shutting down the Bengals' top weapons.
His stellar performance shouldn't overshadow another great performance by a member of the secondary: Newsome, the first-round rookie who recorded two pass deflections and played a heavy role in preventing big plays from Chase and Tee Higgins.
The game was arguably the best of Newsome's young career and further highlighted just how well the secondary played. The Bengals entered the week with at least two passing touchdowns in every game so far this season, but they didn't have any against Cleveland.
Newsome now has six pass deflections, which ties him for the team lead with Ward and CB Greedy Williams. That stat speaks volumes about the current state of the depth the Browns have at the cornerback position.
Game Ball No. 3 - Troy Hill
Nope, we're still not done handing out game balls to the secondary.
Hill can't be left off the list, either. Not after he recorded two sacks, doubling his entire career total from his six seasons in the NFL. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods dialed up plenty of nickel blitzes against Burrow, and Hill had a clean path to sacking him twice. He had three total quarterback hits and even beat out DE Myles Garrett (1.5 sacks), the league's sack leader with 12 sacks, in the category.
"There's certain games where the blitz from the secondary is a viable thing," Stefanski said. "Troy's been really good at fitting the run all season long, and that's kind of a natural extension of 'fit the run' and blitzing into some of those open gaps."
Hill was superb in his normal cornerback duties, too. Bengals slot receiver Tyler Boyd was held to just one catch for 11 yards.
Game Ball No. 4 - Baker Mayfield
In a week unlike any other, Cleveland's quarterback kept his composure, leadership and rallied the offense to its best game of the year.
Baker Mayfield looked as crisp as he's been all season with 218 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. The offense only ran 48 plays, 21 of which were throws, and Mayfield completed 14 of them to keep Cleveland moving down the field. His 132.6 quarterback rating was his highest of the season.
The Browns were ready to rally behind their quarterback all week, and Mayfield delivered on every opportunity to show his group has what it takes to make a playoff run.
"When adversity hit, nobody flinched," Mayfield said. "It was a long week — I'd be lying if I said otherwise. Proud of these guys and how they were able to focus and do their jobs. We've got a good group. We really do."
Game Ball No. 5 - Nick Chubb
One week after rushing for a season-low 61 yards, Chubb returned back to his normal form of dominance when the Browns needed him most.
The fourth-year RB rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which happened on a season-long run of 70 yards in the third quarter and advanced Cleveland's lead to 31-10. Chubb, who missed Weeks 6 and 7 with a calf injury, helped the Browns rediscover their offensive identity from 2020, when they used their run game to overpower defenses in the second half and add cushion when they were ahead on the scoreboard.
Chubb is now third in the NFL with 721 rushing yards this season, 100 yards behind Taylor and 216 behind Tennessee's Derrick Henry, who could miss the rest of the year with a foot injury. It's a remarkable spot for Chubb to be considering he missed two games, but no one is surprised to see him still making a run at the rushing title.