That was incredible.
In a memorable day at First Energy Stadium, the Cleveland Browns dominated the San Francisco 49ers, 24-10.
The victory ends an embarrassing seven-game skid and erases some major doubts after last week's loss to the Bengals.
The Browns controlled the tempo on both offense and defense, easily besting a rebuilding 49ers team. Sometimes, the quality of the opponent tempers positive emotions after a victory.
That's not the case with today's win. The Browns outclassed the 49ers in a fun day for Cleveland fans.
Here are your seven takeaways from a joyful triumph:
1. Slump busted: Following a lengthy seven-game losing streak, the Browns finally won again on Sunday. The Browns didn't just win, the club manhandled the 49ers.
Full disclosure: I attended the game today. To be honest, First Energy Stadium looked fairly empty. The stadium only looked two-thirds full, with plenty of empty orange seats. However, ask anyone in attendance (including myself), and they will tell you that was a helluva lot of fun.
For three hours, the Browns were not the laughing stock of the league. The Browns were not a team with internal discord and dysfunction. The Browns were not a total trainwreck of a team.
Instead, the 49ers assumed the position and the Browns looked like the pro football team instead of a semipro club.
From start to finish, the Browns dominated. The score doesn't fully tell the story of the Browns' dominance. The Browns controlled the tempo of the game, did whatever they pleased on offense, and attacked the 49ers' weak offensive line.
It was a complete win in every sense of the word.
Granted, the Browns are 3-10 and remain in the cellar of the AFC North. However, this win feels great.
2. Johnny #$%^ing Football: Johnny Manziel played an outstanding game on Sunday, looking poised and cool in the pocket. It's hard not to get excited about Manziel's play today.
Following a two-game stint on the bench due to partying, Manziel completed 21-of-30 passes for 270 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Some credit obviously sits on offensive coordinator John DeFilippo's shoulders, but Manziel looked exceptional.
Manziel showed impressive accuracy on his short throws and exhibited plenty of patience. The second-year quarterback cycled through his reads and found the open receiver all day. Manziel recognized San Francisco's blitzes and diagnosed coverage packages effectively. Before today, we had seen Manziel's game-breaking ability and his knack for turning broken plays into big gains.
We saw a new side of Manziel against the 49ers. His physical prowess shined, but his mental aptitude also became apparent today.
Save for one ill-advised throw against his body at the end of the first half, resulting in an interception, Manziel threw to the correct target on nearly all of his throws. The Texas native even threw a couple passes away when under duress, showing increased maturity in the pocket.
On many broken plays today, Manziel decided to throw the ball instead of forcing a run play. Manziel is evolving from a run-first quarterback to a pass-first quarterback.
Two caveats come with the praise: 1. The 49ers defense is terrible, and 2. Manziel ran a fairly simple offense today.
The 49ers entered the day allowing 24.2 points per game and 395.1 yards per game, ranking 19th and 28th in the NFL, respectively. For comparison's sake, San Francisco's defense is on par with the Browns' unit. We can't say Manziel is a star simply based on a great performance against a lackluster defense.
As for the offensive scheme, the Browns ran a fairly simple passing attack today. The team mostly used short pass routes, reminiscent of a West Coast scheme. The Browns also mixed in several playaction bootlegs, but used simple, well-executed short pass plays to defeat the Niners.
Manziel performed terrifically in his return to action. His performance speaks for itself. But Browns fans must remain grounded in expectations for Manziel, particularly heading into a tough three-game stretch to end the year.
3. The Crow feasts, Johnson jolly, too: Running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson tore apart the 49ers. The duo recorded a combined 223 yards, by far a season high for the Browns.
DeFilippo certainly fed the Crow today, as Crowell received 20 carries. The second-year back rewarded the Browns with 145 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first Browns' back to surpass the century mark this season. His 145 yards were the most gained by a team back since Peyton Hillis notched 184 against the Broncos in 2010.
Crowell tore off runs of 54 and 50 yards, bursting through small holes in the middle of the San Francisco defense. Unlike in past weeks, Crowell showcased impressive burst, showing no hesitation in hitting the holes. The 22-year-old back displayed nice speed, too, evading defenders in the open field while galloping for big gains.
Crowell entered the day with a highly disappointing 327 yards and one touchdown. His performance might convince the Browns to keep him around a little longer.
Johnson did not hit the century mark, but the rookie did carve the 49ers defense like a holiday turkey. Johnson finished the day with 13 carries for 78 yards, a career-high for the Miami product.
Like Crowell, Johnson burst through holes with speed and showed off his elusiveness in the open field. Johnson also displayed an important trait for running backs -- power. The 22 year old pushed his way through defenders on several occasions. Each collision was met with a joyous "Ooh!" and a chant of "Duuuuke!" This kid has a future in Cleveland.
Of course, Crowell and Johnson could not enjoy much success without the offensive line paving the way. To the unit's credit, the Niners' defensive line could not generate any push on run plays.
The Browns need more games like this from the Crowell, Johnson, and company.
4. Sack attack: The Browns' defense relentlessly pursed 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Browns recorded nine sacks on the day, the most recorded in an NFL game this season.
Someone must have flipped a switch between last week and today. The Browns' defense, particularly the pass rush, looked completely different against the 49ers.
Unlike the passive approach espoused by the defense in recent weeks, the Browns played aggressively and attacked the San Francisco offensive line all day. Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil called exotic blitzes that confused Gabbert and sent the Missouri product scrambling for his life.
O'Neil's playcalls and the players' execution led to a long day for the Niners. The Browns recorded nine sacks, a high number considering the team entered the game with just 17 in 12 games. The defense also recorded 12 quarterback hits on 28 Gabbert pass attempts. In other words, the Browns hit Gabbert on nearly every other pass attempt.
The Browns' edge rushers dominated San Francisco's tackles, speeding around the edge and forcing Gabbert into the middle. Armonty Bryant and Desmond Bryant enjoyed exceptional games, as the two combined for 3.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits. Rookie Nate Orchard also tabbed two sacks, adding two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.
Perhaps the Browns defense ate its Wheaties today or sacrificed a chicken to Jobu before the game. Whatever the Browns did differently, the defense needs to do the same thing next week against the Seahawks.
5. Killing it in the Clutch: The Browns owned third down, both on offense and defense. For once, the Browns consistently made plays on third down.
On offense, Manziel and the Browns converted 6-of-12 opportunities. On defense, the club held the 49ers to a slim 2-of-13 conversion rate. Of 25 third downs today, 17 ended in the Browns' favor. In addition, two of the offense's failed conversions came in garbage time.
The element of surprise proved to be the most effective third down strategy for the Browns. Three of the team's six conversions came on running plays, while the other three came on passes. The Browns used a mix of run and pass on third down to keep the 49ers guessing.
Manziel played well on third down, completing 3-of-5 passes for 23 yards and a touchdown to Gary Barnidge. He did sustain a sack and nearly a safety, but was the beneficiary of two critical San Francisco penalties. The Niners were called for holding and a facemask on third down, critically keeping two Browns' drives alive.
The Browns' defense also proved clutch on third down, using confusing blitz schemes to limit Gabbert. The backup quarterback completed 5-of-10 attempts on third downs for 35 yards and zero first downs. Jordan Poyer also sacked Gabbert on 3rd and 3 midway through the second quarter, forcing a three-and-out.
O'Neil and the defense has deservedly drawn heaps of criticism for bad calls and worse execution. But the defense locked down the 49ers on third down, leading to seven punts by the visitors.
6. Big Uglies make a big difference: The Browns' offensive and defensive lines won the game in the trenches. The supposed strengths of the team finally showcased its full potential on Sunday.
Frustrated fans have watched as the lines have underperformed this season. The Browns invested heavily in the lines in the offseason, leading some to believe the team would dominate the trenches this season.
Potential became reality on Sunday, as the offensive line paved the way for the ground game and the defensive line halted a rebuilding 49ers offense with ease.
Perhaps Austin Pasztor made the difference on the line. Head coach Mike Pettine replaced rookie Cameron Erving with a more seasoned Pasztor midweek, and the move paid off.
The Browns ran for a season-high 230 yards and provided a lot more time for the quarterback. The Niners did record two sacks and four quarterback hits, but these negative plays can largely be attributed to Manziel's scrambling. The offensive line opened holes on running plays and sealed off San Francisco rushers on pass plays.
The defensive line also lived up to the hype. As mentioned in the fourth point, the Bryant duo relentlessly attacked the quarterback from the edge. Xavier Cooper followed in the veterans' footsteps, accruing three tackles, 0.5 sacks, one tackle for loss, and one quarterback hit. The rookie took a big step today.
The interior defensive line did its job, too. Danny Shelton and Jamie Meder did not fill the stat sheet, but occupied blockers for the rest of the front seven. Evidence of this fact is the high tackle numbers for the Browns' defensive ends and linebackers. If Shelton and Meder are not doing their job, the front seven will have low numbers.
Controlling the line of scrimmage will be critical to the team's success in the final three games.
7. Return of the Phil: Beloved former Browns kicker Phil Dawson returned to First Energy Stadium, to the joy of Browns fans. The veteran returned to Cleveland as a 49er, but Browns fans embraced Dawson with open arms.
Find me a Browns fan without a soft spot for Dawson and I'll show you a liar.
Dawson joined the club in 1999 and stuck with the team throughout 14 season of turnover and turmoil. The Texas product represented the only constant in expansion-Browns era, rarely missing a kick, particularly in crunch time. Dawson connected on 305-of-363 field goals (84%) and an incredible 97.8% of his extra points.
Dawson served his time as a Brown with dignity, always putting in extra effort and showing thanks for the fans. Few fans were happy when the Browns decided not to resign Dawson following a Pro Bowl season in 2012.
The 40-year-old kicker has thrived since leaving Cleveland, converting 76-of-87 field goals for the Niners in three seasons. As Terry Pluto recently wrote, Dawson is ageless.
The Browns paid Dawson a proper tribute on Sunday. The team compiled a 20-second video montage of Dawson highlights throughout his time in Cleveland, and showed the video during a break early in the first quarter.
Welcome back, Phil. https://t.co/IRSTTCe6wM— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 13, 2015
Browns fans responded with resounding cheers for the beloved veteran, who sat fighting back tears on the 49ers bench. The tribute lasted nearly a minute, as fans seemed hesitant to stop clapping. Dawson waved to the crowd and touched his heart as fans gave him a standing ovation.
I've seen some special moments at First Energy Stadium, but this tribute was one of the most memorable. As Dawson told reporters after the game, he was "trying not to break down on the sideline."
Dawson is a class-act, and I'm glad the Browns and the fans honored him properly.
Now, if the team could bring him back for a reunion tour after his contract with the Niners expires this offseason ...