Before the Browns prepared to face the Bears on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, Myles Garrett challenged the Browns defense to take a step forward.
The defense, one that was overloaded with free agents and draft picks over the offseason with hopes of becoming one of the best in the league, was underperforming. They weren't turning pressures into sacks. They weren't imposing tight coverage on wide receivers. They weren't being as great as they appeared to be on paper.
Garrett, the Browns' top defensive leader, knew they needed to be better.
"I want to see them go out there and make big plays," Garrett said Friday. "It's tough watching my teammates not being able to make a play because when I see the offense keying on me with chips and stuff like that, I'm like well, they're taking a player out of play to stop me, so we have a one-on-one.
"We've got to get there."
On Sunday, the defense did more than just meet Garrett's challenge.
They dominated, and they did it in record fashion behind perhaps the greatest performance of Garrett's career.
Garrett registered 4.5 of the Browns' nine sacks against Bears rookie QB Justin Fields in a 26-6 win. The Browns filled the stat book with history all afternoon by limiting the Bears to only 47 total net offensive yards and just one net passing yard, which are both the lowest-ever recorded by an opponent in franchise history, and totaled their highest sack total in a game since 2015.
The biggest catalyst? Garrett. His 4.5 sacks were the highest ever recorded by a Browns defender in a single game, which broke the previous record set by Andra Davis in 2003.
Garrett took pride in his performance but credited the rest of the defense for putting themselves in a position to make history.
"It's awesome seeing everybody getting off and making big plays," Garrett said. "It's just like when you're in high school — everybody is balling and you feel like you can make a play at any time. You feel like you're the star. Everybody wants to feel like that on the field. "
Check out photos of the Browns against the Bears in week three
Garrett gave himself an opportunity to break the franchise single-game sack record by posting 2.5 sacks in the first half. The defense applied pressure on Fields in nearly every single pass play, and the Bears' tackle duo of Jason Peters and Germain Ifedi had no solutions to stopping Garrett — or anyone else coming off the edge for the Browns.
With 10 minutes left, Garrett had already claimed the franchise record. His sacks alone accounted for 24.5 yards lost from the Bears' offense, which recorded its lowest output in a game since 1981.
Once Garrett raced behind the Bears' offense and brought down Fields from behind for sack No. 4.5, a sold-out crowd of 67,431 roared in approval and chanted his name.
"He's a Monstar, man," quarterback Baker Mayfield said, referencing the villainous team of monsters from the "Space Jam" movie. "It's unreal. He's out there eating. I didn't realize what he said prior to this week, and he lived up to that."
Sunday was just another chapter of the greatness Garrett has brought to Cleveland since he was drafted with the first overall pick in 2017. His 48 career sacks are the most among all first overall picks in their first 54 games and third-most by a first pick in their first five years, passing Dwight Freeney for fourth-most in a player's first 54 games.
Garrett is now 3.5 sacks away from passing Michael Dean Perry for second on the franchise's all-time sack list and 14 away from passing Clay Matthews (62) as the record-holder.
"Myles is a great player," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He's a team leader, and we're going to need him to be great. He was great today."
Not everything about the performance was perfect in Garrett's mind, though.
As he smiled and discussed how it felt to be the franchise's new single-game sack leader, Garrett shook his head and lamented how he wasn't able to bring Fields down late in the fourth quarter for what could've been sack No. 5.5. Garrett had two arms wrapped around an elusive Fields and nearly brought him down by the legs but was unsuccessful.
Fields was still sacked on the play by Jadeveon Clowney — who notched the first two sacks of his Browns career, too — but Garrett couldn't shake the play as he recalled the others of his Bears beatdown.
"Me and the statistician are going to have a talk to see if I can get half of that," Garrett joked. "It was fun, though. We all on the D-line had a great game, and coverage was working, as well."
Garrett entered Sunday with just one sack so far in 2021. Now, he leads the NFL in that category and is off to his best start in a season since he recorded six sacks in three games in 2019.
For Garrett, though, the most important aspect of Sunday was the defense getting back on track. He knew they were on the verge of a big performance, and he knew he was going to be needed to help them accomplish it.
Breaking a single-game franchise record is certainly one way to do it.
"We're picking for each other," Garrett said. "We're working games with each other and helping each other make plays. That is how it's supposed to be. You're supposed to work in tandem, and that is what it looked like today."