The Browns’ defense played very well after the opening drive, while QB Baker Mayfield had one of his worst games as a pro — despite that, the defensive effort allowed Cleveland to prevail by a final score of 14-7. I apologize to the defense profusely for thinking their effort against the Bears last week was “just because of the Bears” — the defense delivered in even more impressive fashion this week, given the opponent. Let’s get to the recap, as Cleveland is now 3-1 on the season.
The Vikings received the ball first, with QB Kirk Cousins continuing his efficiency throwing the ball. Down in the red zone, Minnesota faced a 4th-and-1 from the 9 yard line and went for it, converting with a fullback handoff for a first down. On 1st-and-goal from the 8, Cousins escaped pressure and threw a touchdown pass, but he did so beyond the line of scrimmage for a penalty. Cleveland had the Vikings in a 3rd-and-goal from the 12 yard line, but Cousins found WR Justin Jefferson after CB Denzel Ward and S John Johnson III couldn’t get on the same page. The 7.5 minute drive gave the Vikings a 7-0 lead to start the game.
The Browns then proceeded to march down the field, taking up the remaining of the quarter to set up a 3rd-and-4 from the 6 yard line. How often do you see a first quarter where each team only possessed the ball once, and the latter team’s drive was still continuing into the second quarter?
Unfortunately, the finish to the drive in the second quarter was not good. On third down, QB Baker Mayfield’s reads were covered, so he rolled out. He tried to fire a pass across his body to RB Kareem Hunt, but it was too high and fell incomplete. Rather than take the field goal, head coach Kevin Stefanski went for it. Again, Mayfield’s read was covered, and the edge rushers got to Mayfield for a sack and turnover on downs.
The defense responded by forcing a three-and-out, thanks to pressures on screen passes by DE Jadeveon Clowney on first down and Johnson on third down. After the punt, Cleveland took over at the 31 yard line, having to try attempt number two at making up for their last drive. That didn’t go well either, as the Browns went three-and-out when Mayfield’s quick pass to Higgins was contested and fell incomplete. P Jamie Gillan only had a 33-yard punt that was fair caught at the 30 yard line, which is far from ideal inside a dome.
Minnesota got a nice 20-yard catch along the sideline that Stefanski threw the challenge flag on, but the call on the field stood. On second down at the 35 yard line, the Browns’ defense stepped up, first by stopping RB Dalvin Cook for a loss of a yard, and then forcing two straight incompletions, including one on fourth down, for the Vikings to have their turn at turning the ball over on downs.
Cleveland utilized their running game to grind out yards on their next drive, first with Hun and then with RB Nick Chubb. A 9- and then 6-yard run by Chubb heading into the two-minute warning set Cleveland up with a 1st-and-goal from the 5 yard line. The first play after the two-minute warning saw a hold by RG Wyatt Teller. On 2nd-and-goal from the 15, Mayfield threaded a ball to WR Rashard Higgins to the 3 yard line. On 2nd-and-goal from the 3, Mayfield’s pass to WR Odell Beckham was too high on the double move. Chubb gained a yard on third down. Then on 4th-and-goal from the 2 yard line, Stefanski decided to go for it again. Mayfield found nothing and his pass fell incomplete, but Cleveland was bailed out by a cheap defensive holding penalty in the end zone.
Cleveland had to get to a 3rd-and-goal again before finally punching it in with Hunt from a yard out to tie the game at 7-7 — or so we thought.
The Vikings used a fourth timeout on the extra point, which is a delay of game penalty. Despite how tough it was to punch it in, Stefanski accepted the penalty and went for the two-point conversion from the 1 yard line. FB Andy Janovich went in motion and caught the wide open playaction pass in the end zone to give Cleveland a 8-7 lead with 1:16 to go in the half. The Browns’ drive was officially an 18-play, 78-yard drive that lasted 8:39.
Minnesota went three-and-out and Cleveland used a timeout with 0:56 to go to force a punt. An intentional grounding penalty on Mayfield on first down made it look like the drive was over, especially on 3rd-and-20. Mayfield gave the ball to Hunt on a draw, and he scampered 33 yards to get into Minnesota territory. One completion to Higgins set K Chase McLaughlin up for a 48-yard field goal, which he connected on to give the Browns an improbably 11-7 lead at the half, after how things looked.
The Browns started the third quarter with a 3-yard run by Chubb and then a 5-yard completion to Chubb. On third down, the Browns had RB Demetric Felton moving back-and-forth in motion pre-snap, and then he was wide open in the flat for a first down as Mayfield rolled that way. Mayfield somehow did not see him and kept the ball, being stopped short of a first down and forcing a quick punt.
The Browns’ defense continued to stay on fire, though, forcing a three-and-out of their own, including getting their first sack of the game when DE Takk McKinley got to Cousins on third down to force a punt. Cleveland took over at the 23 yard line following the punt.
The Browns were able to get to midfield via one completion to TE David Njoku and the use of the running game. Then, on 3rd-and-7, Mayfield had a shot at Beckham deep down the right sideline, but couldn’t step up in the pocket enough to deliver a good throw, so it hit the defender in the back for an incompletion. After a punt, the Vikings took over at the 14 yard line.
On the Vikings’ next drive, a soft roughing the passer penalty was called on Cleveland. However, that didn’t phase the Browns, as they kept bringing the heat and nearly intercepted a pass. The Vikings appeared to have a big completion downfield on third down, but Garrett was held to call it back, leading to another Minnesota punt. This time, the Browns took over with better starting field position at the 35 yard line.
The Browns went heavy with the run game to begin the drive, and rookie OT James Hudson came on to replace LT Jedrick Wills after the latter hobbled to the sideline with his ankle injury again. Cleveland then got in a nearly identical 3rd-and-7 scenario as last drive from midfield. Mayfield tried to take off and made it up the right sideline, diving for a first down — although the officials marked him short. The Browns lined up to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the 42 yard line, but Hudson flinched for a false start. That brought out the punt unit, and Minnesota fair caught the ball at the 9 yard line with 1:12 to go in the third quarter.
Minnesota began their next drive with a 20-yard completion to Jefferson. But then on 2nd-and-9, DE Myles Garrett sacked Cousins for a loss of 4 yards to end the quarter, setting up a 3rd-and-13. Cousins found WR Dede Westbrook for a 17-yard gain to move the chains, and then hit TE Tyler Conklin for 14 yards, showing some rhythm for the first time since their opening drive. The defense continued the pressure, though, with an offensive pass interference and then a third down stop forcing another punt from midfield.
Cleveland’s next drive started from the 16 yard line, but again did not last long. Mayfield missed an open TE Harrison Bryant on second down, and then the screen pass on third down was off target too, leading too another punt. Gillan leaned into this one, and along with a 10-yard penalty on Minnesota, pushed the ball all the way back to the 18 yard line. But I feel like a broken record writing the recap for this second half, because the Vikings went three-and-out again. After the punt, the Browns took over at the 30 yard line, improving their field position from the previous drive.
Mayfield finally connected with Beckham on a 24-yard drive, and a nice run by Chubb helped get the Browns into long field goal range. When the drive stalled again, McLaughlin came on to try a 53-yard field goal, and he drilled it with ease to give the Browns a 14-7 lead with 6:16 to go.
On the next drive, Cousins ran a playaction fake and went for the home run ball to WR Adam Thielen, but CB Greedy Williams came up with his biggest play as a pro as he intercepted the pass!
Cleveland got to midfield, but then Mayfield took two shots downfield that weren’t on target an stopped the clock both times, leading to a punt that was fair caught at the 12 yard line with 3:51 to go. Minnesota started the drive with three runs plays surprisingly, but then on 3rd-and-6 from the 29 yard line, Cousins found Jefferson up the right sideline for 33 yards to get into Cleveland territory. The Vikings then faced a 2nd-and-8 from the 38 yard line at the two-minute warning.
DT Malik Jackson tipped a pass on third down to force an incompletion, setting up a pivotal 4th-and-3 from the 33 yard line. Jackson and DT Malik McDowell forced pressure and an incompletion for a turnover on downs!
The Vikings still had three timeouts, so the Browns couldn’t just knee the ball. The Browns ran the ball twice, and then on 3rd-and-5, the Stefanski opted to pass the ball. Beckham was open downfield for a walk-in touchdown, but the two weren’t on the same page and it led to an incompletion and a punt. The Vikings took over again with a minute to play and one timeout remaining.
Garrett came through with pressure on first down for an incompletion. Then Jackson knocked another pass down on second down. On fourth down, the Vikings got to midfield off of a pass interference penalty on CB Troy Hill. The Vikings used their final timeout after a 19-yard completion to the 32 yard line, now with 0:12 left. The Vikings then had one shot left with 0:04 left from the 26 yard line, and it fell incomplete. Game over.
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- QB Baker Mayfield: 15-of-33 for 155 yards. 2 rushes, 11 yards.
- RB Nick Chubb: 21 carries, 100 yards. 1 catch, 5 yards (1 target).
- RB Kareem Hunt: 16 carries, 69 yards, 1 TD. 2 catches, 17 yards (4 targets).
- WR Odell Beckham: 2 catches, 27 yards (6 targets).
- The Browns out-gained the Vikings 327 to 255.
- Cleveland won the time of possession battle 35:32 to 24:28.