Just a few days before Sunday's game, Sione Takitaki called himself a "work in progress" and vowed he needed to improve in every area of his game.
The second-year linebacker stressed that would be the mindset he carries no matter what stage he hits in his career. It's how he's wired. Still, he was able to acknowledge he's come a long way even if the results hadn't quite materialized the way he envisioned halfway through his second NFL season.
"When I get out there on the field," Takitaki said, "I feel like I am out there trying to make a play and not worrying about what is my assignment."
As a Carson Wentz pass fluttered into his arms early in Sunday's second quarter, Takitaki had just one thing to worry about: the green grass that stood between him and the end zone for the biggest play of his Browns career.
Takitaki's 50-yard interception return for a touchdown jump-started the Browns on another soggy day at FirstEnergy Stadium. It was the first of three big turnovers on the day — and the Browns needed every single one of them — as another opportunistic performance by the defense carried the team to its seventh win of the season.
This was Takitaki's biggest opportunity yet to deliver the kind of "splash" plays he made throughout his career at BYU. The result was a wave of momentum for the Browns, who wouldn't trail at any point for the second straight week.
"I train every day, week-in, week-out to go out there and make these splash plays and help the team," said Takitaki, who entered Sunday's game with 26 tackles on the season. "I felt good to finally get those feelings back and continue to work and grow to help my team.
"It was a great feeling, a feeling you want to feel, every time you step on that field."
The good feelings for Takitaki, a regular starter at SAM whose playing time depends on the matchup, came before the game, too. He served as the team's game captain, a role that has rotated from week to week throughout the season.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said he gave Takitaki the honor because he's "as tough as they come." Takitaki, who also brings an edge to the Browns' special teams units, has played through a hand injury that has put him on the injury report every week but hasn't kept him out of any games.
"He plays through injuries, and he just does his job. He plays his role, he plays it hard," Stefanski said. "He brings a physicality to our team. To see him make a play on the ball and go score was incredible. So proud of him. To see our defense get their hands on the ball and balls so often is a big deal. We knew we were going to have to go make those type of game-changing plays, and they showed up."
Takitaki's big play wouldn't have happened without an unlikely source of pressure on Wentz.
Pro Bowl CB Denzel Ward brought the heat on a delayed blitz and caught Wentz, whose back was turned to him, by surprise. Ward got just enough of Wentz's arm to affect the throw, which popped into the air and fluttered before Takitaki was able to secure it.
Ward joked Takitaki would need to give him the assist on a play the linebacker, and the Browns, soon won't forget.
"That was a game-changer in the game, and we needed it," Ward said. "He stepped up big for us."
Check out photos of the Eagles against the Browns