As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate the positives of Browns football, in part because they’ve been so few and far between. It can be difficult to stop and process things over the course of a season. Apart from the bye week, we are never more than eight days away from the next game, and it’s easy to turn your thoughts toward the future. Will the Browns win X amount of games? Will they make the playoffs?
After the win over Baltimore on Sunday, I fought the urge to look ahead to Monday night. Cleveland has a chance to be above .500 for the first time since December 14th, 2014, and they can do so on national TV. While all of that is enticing, it’s important to take in the moment and appreciate what we’ve just seen. While 2-2 isn’t the most remarkable accomplishment in football, how we got there certainly is, mainly because it came at the expense of the Baltimore Ravens, and that feels pretty good. I spent some time this week thinking about why the Baltimore game was so special and this was what I came up with:
The Browns won the game by 15 points, which includes the late touchdown by the Ravens that came after everything was all but finalized. Still, honoring that score, it was the largest margin of victory for Cleveland against their AFC North competitor since September 12th, 2004 when they won at home 20-3.
The 40 point performance by the offense wasn’t just the highest score Cleveland has recorded in M&T Bank Stadium, it’s the highest they’ve recorded against the Ravens, a team they’ve now played 41 times. Even during Freddie Kitchen’s rise as offensive coordinator last season, the Browns failed to reach this mark. The last time they did was during their controversial loss against Oakland 364 days before, a game that was also Baker Mayfield’s first official start. Mayfield is now tied with Derek Anderson in win total against Baltimore after his second victory against them, falling short of the three wins held by Tim Couch.
Afterward, I couldn’t help but wonder how they were able to pull away from the Ravens so easily, a team that had a 3:1 win ratio against the Browns since their return in 1999. After all, this was the same roster that put up 59 points in week one, 23 in week two, and 28 in week three. It was the same organization that had taken care of Miami and Arizona before playing Kansas City close on the road. How had the struggling Cleveland offense been able to do what they did? Then I checked the statistics.
Courtesy of NFL.com, in yards allowed this season, the worst teams are as follows: 32) Miami Dolphins 31) Arizona Cardinals 30) Kansas City Chiefs. Baltimore wasn’t far behind after Sunday, ranking 27th in the NFL. Going into week 4, Baltimore’s previous opponents had a combined record of 3-5-1, with all three of those wins coming via KC, their only loss before facing the Browns. While I believe the Ravens will find relative success this season, I also had to wipe away the image of their past defenses. The days of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Ed Reed are gone.
And on top of it all, the Browns are leading the AFC North via their tiebreaker with the Ravens. It’s the first time they’ve done so since November of 2014. Five full years of football without even a moment at the top. It might not seem like a very long time ago, but a lot has changed since then. Barrack Obama was just over halfway through his second term. The Sochi Winter Olympics had wrapped up several months before. There was a Transformers movie that served as the traditional summer blockbuster, along with a Hunger Games flick that came out on November 10th and American Sniper the following day. Radio stations were playing Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars on repeat. Josh Gordon was preparing to return from suspension after his fourth failed drug test. In addition, David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Tom Petty, and George H.W. Bush were all still with us.
As I mentioned, it’s easy to get lost is the noise. Pittsburg just upped their record to 1-3 against the now 0-4 Bengals. Cleveland just dominated Baltimore in enemy territory. There is a ton of football left to be played, but one can’t help to imagine that the Browns have a legitimate opportunity to win their division for the first time in thirty years. Not because of luck, or the bad fortune of the other three teams, but because of their talent.
As a Cleveland fan, it’s important to take things in stride, but it’s equally important to take things when they’re given to you. The Browns gave us a historic win against the franchise that was stolen from Northeast Ohio twenty-three years ago, the same one that has now collected two Lombardi trophies since their departure. Things look like they may finally be turning around in the AFC North. The Browns appear to be shaking off the legacy of their disastrous reintroduction into the NFL. Thinking ahead to the next game is a job for the coaching staff. As for me, I’m going to let this one marinate for a while.