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The Cleveland Browns improved to 4-1 on the season with a 32-23 victory over the Indianapolis Colts Sunday. Without running back Nick Chubb, Cleveland leaned on quarterback Baker Mayfield and the passing attack in the first half against the NFL's stiffest run defense. The Browns carried a 20-10 lead over Indianapolis into the locker room at halftime.
It appeared as though Cleveland had all but locked up the game when a Philip Rivers interception was returned for a touchdown but the very next play was a kickoff return for a touchdown in the other direction. Indianapolis regained momentum and fought to stick around, but it was ultimately defensive end Myles Garrett, who recorded two more sacks to extend his league lead, and the Browns defense that was able to close out the game. A 46-yard field goal from Cody Parkey iced it late.
Why the Browns won
Cleveland did not punt for the first time until the fourth quarter. The run game was stifled without running back Nick Chubb. Quarterback Baker Mayfield stepped up and threw for 228 yards in the first half alone. Mayfield did take some hits late in the game and is scheduled to have x-rays on his ribs conducted in the coming days. Wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, as well as tight end Austin Hooper, made difficult, contested catches for their quarterback to extend drives. The air attack's success sparked a 20-10 lead at halftime.
The defense contributed a safety and a touchdown themselves. Defensive end Myles Garrett added another sack bringing his season total up 6.
The Browns had some moments that had fans thinking "here we go again." Landry dropped a few key passes and Isaiah Rodgers returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. In the past, those moments would have been examples of the same old Browns. It is a new day and age in northeast Ohio, however, as the team appears to have finally cleared the mental hurdle of allowing one play to derail their efforts.
Why the Colts lost
The Colts defense was rather fantastic without linebacker Darius Leonard. They had just one sack but linebackers Anthony Walker and Bobby Okereke each had an interception. Both had been on the injury report through the week. Special teams was successful too. The offense was not as spectacular, specifically within the first half.
Quarterback Philip Rivers made some back-breaking mistakes headlined by a pick six from safety Ronnie Harrison. The 10-point halftime deficit was ultimately too much for the team to overcome. He threw for 243 yards but it was the two interceptions that hurt the most. Both interceptions were the result of bad decisions: throwing to the boundary and throwing into coverage.
Play of the game
With the game tied in the second quarter, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. hauled in a 26-yard pass from Mayfield. He was hit high by cornerback Tavon Wilson and Indianapolis immediately challenged the ruling of a catch. When Beckham fell to the ground, few believed that he could re-gather the ball and complete the catch. It was a first down and a chunk play on the touchdown drive that gave Cleveland a lead that would never be returned.
The Browns have won four straight games since being clobbered by the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1. It is Cleveland's first 4-1 start since 1994 under head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Nick Saban. The rubber meets the road next week as the team travels to Pittsburgh to play the rival Steelers. Pittsburgh improved to 4-0 with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Indianapolis will look to begin a new winning streak next week against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off a walloping administered by the rival Baltimore Ravens. The Detroit Lions await the following week. Despite a setback, the Colts have a reasonable opportunity to right the ship.