Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt hitting their stride as a powerful backfield tandem

The Browns have waited over a year to see the type of game Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt had Thursday night against the Bengals.

Ever since Cleveland paired Hunt, the league's rushing leader in 2017, with Chubb in the 2019 offseason, the Browns always dreamed about a game where both running backs were simply unstoppable. They could give the ball to either of them on any snap, exasperate the opposing defense and keep the clock running until a win was secured.

That game finally happened Thursday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Both running backs combined for 210 rushing yards and three touchdowns to deplete the Cincinnati defense in a 35-30 win, the Browns' first of the season. The two backs delivered big gains, broken tackles and a bundle of bruises on the primetime stage and made a statement to the rest of the league about what they can do against any opposing defense tasked to bring them down.

"We both have some special talents, and we both can do some great things with the ball in our hands," Hunt said in a postgame video call with reporters. "It's just going to be tough keeping us both contained all game. I feel like we are game-changers. We both make plays."

The first half belonged to Chubb, who set the tone on the Browns' opening drive with an 11-yard touchdown run that ended with him plowing through defenders like an oversized Pee Wee football player. Nearly half the Bengals defense had placed a hand on Chubb before he crossed the goal-line, but no one could stop the 227-pound back from reaching the end zone.

That was only the start of what became the Browns' best rushing performance since 2016. Hunt made a few similar bone-crushing runs in the second half, too, and his most bruising carry — a 10-yard gain that put Cleveland on the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter— led to a goal-line touchdown run on the next play to seal the win.

The final output was everything the Browns could've hoped for: 22 carries from Chubb for 124 yards; 10 carries from Hunt for 86 yards.

"I think we did a great job running the ball as a team," Chubb said. "It starts with (coach Kevin Stefanski) believing in us on the goal line or in short yardage. He knows we will be able to get it done for him."

Stefanski hoped to give the running backs more opportunities to carry the offense after the Browns scored just six points in a Week 1 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Chubb and Hunt combined for only 23 carries that afternoon, and the Browns were forced to rely on the passing game to save time for any shot of a comeback.

No comeback, however, was necessary Thursday thanks to the work from the two running backs. The Browns planned to use their rushing attack for all four quarters Thursday, and Stefanski delivered a firm response to the offseason discussion over whether he'd be able to provide enough opportunities to both Pro Bowl players in his offense while allowing his other offense playmakers to shine.

The answer? Of course.

QB Baker Mayfield clicked as well, and his biggest highlight came on a 43-yard deep ball to Odell Beckham Jr. for a touchdown in the second quarter. Mayfield faked out the defense, though, with a fake handoff to Hunt, a play design that is a staple of Stefanski's new playbook. The threat of the run game is supposed to open big-play opportunities in the passing attack, and that play was a textbook example.

"We want to be balanced, but balanced does not always mean 50/50," Stefanski said. "I think 'balance' means the threat of the run and pass are there. We were productive tonight. We know what our system is and we know what we want it to look like."

The big night from the rushing department might not even have been close to hitting its ceiling, though. Not according to FB Andy Janovich, who believes the Browns could've pushed their rushing output to over 300 yards if a few more blocks were delivered on certain plays.

"We were one block away on two or three plays from scoring a 60- or 70-yard touchdown," Janovich said. "That's where those extra yards would've come in on a few plays where they could've just ran forever until they hit their head on the goal post."

And even though the Browns rushed 35 times, Hunt still only received 10 carries, eight of which came in the fourth quarter. The game plan for usage between Chubb and Hunt will vary each week, but the workload could've gone even higher for Hunt.

"That is just how it happened," Chubb said of the carry distribution. "Honestly, Kareem is a great back. I think we should get him more involved earlier in the game. You see what he can do."

Both running backs know they need the ball to give the Browns the best shot of winning, and they proved Thursday that not much can go wrong when their part of the plan is followed.

No matter how the plan looks, the Browns appear to be in safe hands, and that shouldn't surprise anyone. Cleveland has been dreaming of using the unstoppable duo to perfection for over a year.

And on Thursday, the vision finally came true.

"I'm very relieved," Hunt said. "We're both talented running backs. We just want to take advantage of every opportunity."

Check out photos of the Browns against the Bengals on Thursday Night Football

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