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Josh McCown turns heads, sets Browns franchise records vs. Ravens

Mike Pettine, John DeFilippo and Josh McCown met Wednesday morning at the Cleveland Browns facility.

The three football minds banded together and formulated an outside-the-box way to beat the Baltimore Ravens.

"The plan going in," Pettine said, "is that we may have to throw the ball 50 times."

That they did.

McCown turned in a performance for the ages, a win Browns fans will remember decades down the line. The 36-year-old set the franchise record with 457 passing yards, completed 36-of-51 attempts and also became the first Cleveland quarterback to post three straight 300-yard games. Cleveland's 12 third-down conversions tied a club record.

Some prognosticators labeled the Browns offense as a weakness behind a journeyman like McCown. But now, with McCown firmly directing the show behind center, Cleveland is establishing itself as one of the better passing offenses in the entire NFL – an absolute stunner in league circles.

"I never wrote me off," McCown answered to a question about how vindicating this win was for him personally. "The people in Cleveland never wrote me off."

The promising observation from Cleveland's win is that McCown's historic achievements were not done by his lonesome. New playmakers are becoming a consistent trend.

On McCown's first of two fourth quarter touchdown passes, tight end Gary Barnidge leapt and caught the scoring throw by using his thighs and his buttocks to trap the ball before it hit the ground. Barnidge is rapidly becoming one of the most underrated and dangerous tight ends so far in 2015 and he feasted on the Ravens defense for 139 yards and eight catches.

"I told him on the sideline that, 'If that's not the No. 1 play of the week, then there's something wrong,'" Pettine cracked after the win.

"A lot of people would've said, 'No. This is not possible,'" Barnidge said of the way Cleveland's been throwing the football with McCown. "But we -- we inside of our building -- we knew we had the pieces that we needed."

The other fourth quarter touchdown was a staple of what McCown has brought to Cleveland: sharp decision making. Trailing 27-22, McCown dropped back, surveyed the right side of the field and decided not to force a pass into coverage. Instead, he dumped off a flare into the hands of running back Isaiah Crowell, who bowled through the Baltimore defense and dove for the 22-yard touchdown.

It wasn't a flashy throw, but it was the right one.

McCown even scrambled for an athletic 10-yard score in the third quarter, a play that sparked the Browns' rally and cut the Ravens' lead to 21-16.

"He's surprisingly mobile for being 50 years old," left tackle Joe Thomas joked.

McCown and the Browns offense carried the momentum into overtime. Barnidge wiggled his way open on a crucial third-and-1, and McCown fired a pass for 19 yards. Cleveland dinked and dunked a few more times down the field to set up kicker Travis Coons for the game-clinching 32-yard field goal. 

McCown was very candid in his post-game press conference. It had been nearly a year since he quarterbacked a team to a win, back in 2014 when Tampa Bay topped Washington. McCown heard the chants to play backup quarterback Johnny Manziel, and he's been a part of revolving quarterback situation for most of his career. He even jested about "playing in the UFL, for crying out loud." The 36-year-old's been through it all.

But right now? Heading into Week 6? None of the labels matter. Cleveland has found out it can win AFC North divisional games by riding McCown's right arm.

"We are ready to do this every week," McCown said. "We've got the receivers. We've got the offensive line. We've got playmakers."

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