CLEVELAND (AP)The Browns heard all the criticism. They took some of it to heart, ignored the rest and changed the narrative.
Second-guessed one week. First place the next.
Living up to the extreme hype and expectations that escorted into this season, the Browns put it all together on Sunday during a 40-25 win over the Baltimore Ravens, who couldn’t catch Nick Chubb or Baker Mayfield and resorted to trying to choke Odell Beckham Jr.
Bullied for so long by the rest of the AFC North, the Browns (2-2) punched back with a sound-and-solid victory they hope leads to bigger ones in the weeks and months ahead.
Following Cleveland’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams the previous week, when rookie coach Freddie Kitchens’ questionable decisions and quarterback Baker Mayfield’s indecisiveness and inaccuracy led to both being ridiculed, the Browns were besieged by detractors who seemed to revel in their failure.
There’s a different noise this week.
”The whole media seemed to count us out after last week’s loss,” said linebacker Joe Schobert, credited with 17 tackles Sunday. ”We started the season 1-2. Freddie’s main message is that you can’t read any of the things. Everybody outside of this building, they do not know what we go through, and they do not matter. It is about the guys in the building, the bond between positions, between units and the whole team.
”That is all that matters. If we can rock with that and roll with that and play how we should, we will be all right.”
Kitchens was confident his team would respond, but even he couldn’t have envisioned such a thorough romp on the road over the Ravens (2-2), who appeared to be the class of the division.
But the Browns controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides, with Cleveland’s defense bottling up dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson and the offensive line blasting open huge holes for Chubb, whose 88-yard touchdown run ended any real chance of Baltimore mounting a comeback.
There was plenty for Kitchens to be pleased about, but he felt the key was that his players didn’t buckle from the external pressure. Rather, the Browns bonded because of it.
”You do not really find out what you have until you hit adversity because then you either run together, you run toward each other or you separate,” Kitchens said. ”We do not have any guys who separated during the first three weeks. They stayed together. They did not split. They did not worry about what the outside noise was talking about, and they just stayed together.”
The offense finally found its rhythm after being out of step.
Mayfield made quicker decisions and looked more poised in the pocket. Jarvis Landry was his primary target, catching eight passes for a career-high 167 yards before leaving with a concussion.
Beckham was held to just two receptions for 20 yards by cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who got under the Pro Bowler’s skin and choked him after the pair got into a heated scuffle.
Baltimore’s focus on limiting Beckham opened the field.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Cleveland’s defense some missed tackles at the point of attack. If not for Schobert, Jackson may have gotten loose for a couple touchdowns.
”Joe Schobert made plays all over the field and saved us a couple of times,” Kitchens said.
With Christian Kirksey out hurt, the underrated Schobert is leading a unit that was again missing three starters in the secondary because of injury but more than held its own.
Forget Beckham or Landry or Mayfield or Myles Garrett. Chubb may be Cleveland’s best player.
The second-year back finished with 165 yards on 20 carries, and again showed his ability to turn a routine play into a memorable one.
”He is a very patient runner, but he is a home-run hitter,” said center JC Tretter. ”We go into the week knowing if we block up our runs, he is going to find the hole and take it the distance.”
Beckham may not have delivered fantasy points, but Kitchens credited his hustle in helping spring Landry on two big plays.
”You want to know about Odell Beckham, put on those plays where Jarvis Landry is down the field 40-50 yards,” Kitchens said. ”Look who is down there with him trying to get him into the end zone. Look who is blocking No. 44 (Humphrey) before he gets punched in the throat. If you want to tell about Odell Beckham as a football player and as a person, look at those plays.”
Landry was placed in concussion protocol and his status for next week remains unknown.
25 – The number of years since the last time the Browns opened the season 2-0 on the road.
Off to their best start since 2014, the Browns are back in prime time next Monday with a trip to San Francisco. The 49ers are unbeaten and will be coming off a bye.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL