As Nick Chubb bent down and put his hands on his knees to get set for the Browns' first play from scrimmage Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, there was one small worry on his mind.
He wasn't thinking about his knee, which he injured in Week 4 and missed four games to recover. It wasn't about whether he would start slow — he hadn't taken a snap in a game in over a month — and it wasn't about how much the Browns were about to rely on Chubb to run the ball in the gusty weather conditions that put a dent in both teams' ability to complete passes.
The worry was about how it would feel to get tackled again.
"I knew coming in last week that I felt good," Chubb said Wednesday, "but I haven't gotten hit in about five weeks."
So Chubb took the handoff and ran into Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham for a gain of 2 yards.
After that, he had nothing to worry about.
Three days after his first game back from a knee injury, Chubb is still worry-free as he prepares for the Browns' Week 11 matchup versus the Philadelphia Eagles. He's feeling no pain in his knee and showed Sunday he hadn't regressed since his injury — he had 19 carries for 126 yards and one touchdown, although he could've had two, had it not been for his selfless play in the final seconds where he stepped out of bounds and avoided crossing the goal line to ensure the Browns could maintain possession and run the clock out.
Chubb did what was expected of him, if not more.
"It felt good," he said Sunday in his postgame interview. "I had to get going. I have not played in a while, and it felt like I had not played in a while. I just had to knock the rust off and keep trusting myself and keep trusting in the line and that it would pay off in the end."
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Whatever "rust" Chubb had Sunday didn't last long into his performance. By the fourth quarter, he was back to rushing with the same aggressiveness and tackle-shedding abilities that have already helped him ascend to 10th on the franchise's rushing leaders list. His consistency was missed over his four-week absence when the Browns broke 100 combined rushing yards in a game just twice — they had previously rushed for at least 130 yards in each of the first four games of the season.
With Chubb back in the lineup, Cleveland combined for 231 rushing yards against the Texans. Chubb, as well as Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt, both rushed for over 100 yards and became the first Browns' rushing duo to accomplish the feat since Ernie Green and Leroy Kelly in 1966.
"It felt great just to be able to go out there and ball out with my boy," Chubb said. "That is definitely huge for us and for this team and organization. Hopefully, we get plenty more of them."
Hunt's presence certainly helped Chubb ease into his return. Both backs received 19 carries each, and on a day when windy weather conditions called for more reliance on the run game, Hunt was able to shoulder an even chunk of the workload and ensure Chubb could feel well-rested throughout the game.
That game plan was important Sunday, and it will remain important throughout the rest of the season as the Browns continue to use their elite backfield to keep their offense efficient.
"You definitely stay fresh," Chubb said. "You definitely get to wear on the defense and get to bring in new fresh legs whenever you need them. I think that helps us out. It's an advantage for us."
A backfield with Chubb is always an advantage for the Browns. He's feeling pain-free and is full of confidence after a dominant return to the field, and his presence should continue to give the Browns a massive boost in their push to the playoffs.
"We just want to get a win, and that is all that matters," Chubb said. "I had a little setback, but other than that, I feel great."