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Browns vs. Titans Final Score: Cleveland’s historic first-half leads to 41-35 victory over Titans

Cleveland is 9-3 for the first time since 1994, but it got way too close in the second half.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

What a first half! And although the second half made fans nervous (because we’re so used to misfortune over the years), that’s the benefit of being up 38-7 at the half — you can afford a lackluster third quarter and still come away with a big win to further position themselves for a playoff spot. The final score was the Browns defeating the Titans 41-35. Let’s get to the recap of the game.

1st Quarter

The Browns received the ball to begin the game and were rocking and rolling with both the passing game and the ground game, with the longest play being a 35-yard catch-and-run by WR Rashard Higgins. However, on 1st down just outside a goal-to-go situation, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones dropped what would have been a walk-in touchdown. Cleveland eventually had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by K Cody Parkey to take a 3-0 lead.

The Titans, likewise, were moving the ball with ease on their first drive. Once they got to the 42 yard line, they faced a 3rd-and-1 situation. QB Ryan Tannehill ran a playaction fake and threw to an eligible lineman, but LB B.J. Goodson broke up the pass after it was initially caught. On 4th-and-1, the Titans went for it with RB Derrick Henry straight up the gut. It looked like he got the first down, but the referees spotted the ball short for a turnover on downs — a reversal of fortunes from last week. The Titans challenged the call, but the ruling on the field stood as called.

Cleveland got right back into a rhythm on offense with their second drive with a 26-yard screen pass to RB Nick Chubb, followed by an 8-yard run. He was finally stuffed for no gain on second down, setting up a 3rd-and-2. Cleveland busted out the trickery on third down with WR Jarvis Landry completing a 12-yard pass to QB Baker Mayfield — and the Browns gained 15 more yards with a roughing the passer penalty on Landry.

Higgins then made a tremendous 7-yard catch on third down to set up 1st-and-goal from the 1 yard line. On 2nd-and-goal from the 2 yard line, Mayfield bought time and zipped a laser over the middle to Landry for a touchdown, giving Cleveland a 10-0 lead.

On the first play of the Titans’ next drive, Henry fumbled! DL Sheldon Richardson dove on the loose ball for the recovery.

The Browns’ offense took over at the 21 yard line. Completions to Higgins and Landry set up another goal-to-go situation. A 6-yard catch by Landry made it 3rd-and-goal from the 2 yard line, and Mayfield got the Browns one yard closer using the hard count to draw Tennessee offsides heading into the second quarter.

2nd Quarter

On 3rd-and-goal from the 1, the Browns brought out some more trickery! Chubb lined up at fullback with Hunt behind him. Mayfield faked to Chubb, who acted like he was jumping into the end zone, and then Mayfield looked to Hunt in the flat before going to eligible lineman Kendall Lamm, who was wide open for the touchdown to give the Browns a 17-0 lead.

Tannehill went with the aerial assault on his next drive — 12 yards to WR A.J. Brown, 40 yards to Brown again, and then a 17-yard touchdown pass to WR Corey Davis. The drive only took 1:42 to 74 yards in 4 plays, cutting the Browns’ lead to 17-7.

If you thought that was quick, the Browns did them one better — 1 play, 75 yards, 10 seconds, and a touchdown! Mayfield had max protection with Peoples-Jones on the outside, and the Titans bit for the stutter-and-go, leading to the 75-yard touchdown to put Cleveland on top 24-7.

Cleveland’s defense came up big again by forcing a three-and-out and the first punt of the game after CB M.J. Stewart broke up Tannehill’s third-down pass. Cleveland would’ve had decent starting field position after the punt, but a holding penalty made it so their next drive would begin at the 10 yard line. It didn’t matter.

Mayfield continued to deal, with a big chunk coming on a 21-yard pass play to Higgins, with 15 yards extra added on after DT Jeffrey Simmons chopped the arm of RG Wyatt Teller after the play was over. Several plays later, Mayfield found Higgins again — this time for a perfectly-thrown 17-yard touchdown pass to the corner to give the Browns a 31-7 lead with 5:46 to go in the second quarter.

Surprise, surprise — the Browns’ defense forced a three-and-out again, this time with DE Myles Garrett getting pressure off the edge to force Tannehill to step up into a sack from LB Malcolm Smith.

There are just so many plays that Cleveland is running successfully that it’s impossible to mention them all. 17 yards to Peoples-Jones, 13 yards to Landry. Then, the Titans had another 14-yard unnecessary roughness penalty off of a running play to set up 1st-and-10 from the 14 yard line heading into the two-minute warning. A 4-yard run by Chubb, followed by an 8-yard completion to Landry, set up 1st-and-goal from the 2 yard line. Eventually, the Browns faced 3rd-and-goal from the inch line. Chubb dove over the goal line to take a 38-7 lead with 0:55 to go in the half.

The Titans fumbled on the final play of the half, with Cleveland falling on top of it, keeping it at 38-7.

3rd Quarter

The Titans began the second half with a strong 10-yard run by Henry, and then went up-tempo as Tannehill found Davis for a wide open 43-yard catch-and-run. One play later, Tannehill found TE MyCole Pruitt for a wide open 22-yard touchdown pass to make it 38-13.

The Titans lined up to go for two, and Cleveland jumped offsides to put the ball at the 1 yard line. Tennessee lined up with their power running game, but he was met in the hole and stuffed, keeping it a 38-13 game.

Cleveland’s first offensive drive of the second half began with a holding penalty on LT Jedrick Wills. On 3rd-and-17, Mayfield handed the ball off to Hunt to send out the punting unit for the first time. It wasn’t the best punt, as P Jamie Gillan only got 39 yards of distance on it, allowing the Titans to take over at the 39 yard line with 11:18 to go in the third quarter.

The defense couldn’t stop Davis again on the next drive, who caught passes of 18 and 22 yards to get into the red zone. Tannehill then found Brown, and as he tried to score, CB Terrance Mitchell stripped the ball out...but Pruitt picked up the ball and scored, making it a 38-19 game — and then Tannehill bought time and scrambled around the left edge for the two-point conversion to make it 38-21 with 9:08 left in the third quarter.

Less than five minutes into the second half, the Browns’ 31-point lead was trimmed to 17 points, so the offense desperately needed a response of some kind.

It looked like an intentional grounding penalty might stall the Browns’ next drive, but on 3rd-and-12, Mayfield found TE Austin Hooper for 16 yards and a first down. That was followed by a 29-yard run from Chubb. In field goal range, on 3rd-and-3, Mayfield waited and waited in the pocket, and then fired a short-range laser to Landry. It was on-target, but too much of a fastball for Landry, as it bounced off of him for an incompletion. Parkey came on to connect on a 43-yard field goal to make it a 41-21 game. A touchdown would’ve been ideal, but at least it ate some clock while extending the lead a bit.

The Browns’ defense would’ve had an interception on the first play of the Titans’ next drive, but it was wiped away by a defenseless receiver hit from CB Kevin Johnson. The Titans marched past midfield and got to field goal range, but a third-down sack DL Larry Ogunjobi set up 4th-and-12. The Titans’ fourth down pass was incomplete, but a holding penalty on the defense moved the chains.

A few plays later, the Titans faced 4th-and-4. Head coach Kevin Stefanski called a timeout in front of the play to get the defense ready for it. Tannehill completed a pass to the sideline for what would’ve been a first down, but one official said it was incomplete. The Titans used their final challenge wisely, and the call was overturned to a catch.

The Titans looked ready to march in for another score, but Titans WR Adam Humphries dropped the ball and it deflected into arms of CB M.J. Stewart, who returned it to the Browns’ own 30 yard line heading into the fourth quarter.

4th Quarter

Higgins had a rare third down drop to begin the fourth quarter, leading to a three-and-out for the offense and a quick punt. The Browns’ defense forced a three-and-out of their own, though, after a sack from Garrett. The Titans opted to punt with most of the fourth quarter still left to play. An illegal block in the back penalty on the punt made the Browns’ next drive begin at the 20 yard line.

Cleveland’s second half penalties continued, as Hooper was flagged for holding to begin the next drive, again setting up 1st-and-20. After two runs by Hunt, Hunt dodged defenders on a 3rd-and-10 screen pass to pick up a big first down. The Browns burned a few more minutes of clock with the running game before having to punt back to Tennessee. The Titans’ next drive began at the 9 yard line with 5:43 to go. They ran a bunch of short dumpoff passes leading into the two-minute warning. RB Jeremy McNichols punched it in from 2 yards out to make it a 41-28 game with 1:23 to go.

The Titans tried an onside kick up the middle, and FS Andrew Sendejo missed the initial catch, but Smith ended up recovering it for Cleveland. The Titans still had all three timeouts, so the Browns continued running the ball. After three runs, the Browns had a 4th-and-short — and Mayfield ran a quarterback sneak. But he FUMBLED, and S Kenny Vaccaro picked it up and returned it 53 yards before being chased down by Hunt at the 13 yard line.

Tennessee had three straight incompletions to set up 4th-and-10. After an offsides by Garrett, Tannehill found Batson for a touchdown to make it 41-35 with 0:28 to go.

Now the onside kick had to have everyone on eggshells. This time, FB Andy Janovich was the hero, fielding it cleanly.

Up Next

The Browns will play at home on Monday, December 14, in their Week 14 match-up against the Baltimore Ravens. The game will be at 8:15 PM ET on Monday Night Football.

Quick Hitter Stats

  • QB Baker Mayfield: 25-of-33 for 334 yards, 4 TD. 1 fumble.
  • RB Nick Chubb: 18 carries, 80 yards. 1 catch, 26 yards.
  • RB Kareem Hunt: 14 carries, 33 yards. 3 catches, 24 yards.
  • WR Jarvis Landry: 8 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD. 1-of-1 for 6 yards passing.
  • WR Rashard Higgins: 6 catches, 95 yards, 1 TD.
  • WR Donovan Peoples-Jones: 2 catches, 92 yards, 1 TD.
  • 3 sacks by the defense, 2 turnovers.

Quick Hitter Notes

  • The Browns won the first half 38-7, but were out-scored 28-3 in the second half. You afford that luxury with the big first half cushion — but it got way too damn close in the second half.
  • Some of those key mis-steps in the second half: penalties, and third-down drops by Landry and Higgins. And then after I started writing this, that freaking fumble by Mayfield.
  • With that said, what a job by the Browns again! The defense is still short-handed in the secondary, and they pulled it together again for enough key stops, especially early on in stopping Henry.
  • I’m still trying to mentally piece together the big first half, combined with the deflating second half I saw.


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