Winners and Losers: Breakthrough for Browns?

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The Cleveland Browns admitted a mistake with former head coach Freddie Kitchens and moved on after one season. It might be the best move the Browns have made in a long time, even though there aren’t many options for that honor.

Most weeks over the past two decades, the Browns would have been thrilled with 24 first downs, 333 yards and 31 points in a game. There have been times those numbers weren’t guaranteed over a two-week stretch. The Browns did that in the first half against the Dallas Cowboys in a win on Sunday.

The second half got scary, with the Cowboys turning a 27-point deficit into a 41-38 nail-biter with a few minutes left, but Odell Beckham Jr.’s pretty 50-yard touchdown run put the win on ice. Cleveland won 49-38 and is 3-1 to start the season for the first time since 2001. Through most of the Browns’ existence, they would have folded when the Cowboys rallied and lost in the most brutal way possible. Maybe things are changing in Cleveland.

The Cowboys have their defensive issues, to say the least, but it’s tough to look like the Browns did against any NFL team — and it’s not like it’s a sudden breakthrough for them. The Browns have 30-plus points in three straight games. It’s the first time since 1968 the franchise has accomplished that. It was the first time since Dec. 1, 1991 that the Browns scored more than 30 points in a half, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Regardless of how the rest of this season goes, the Browns haven’t looked this good in many, many, many years.

The season didn’t start this way. In Week 1, when they got blown out by the Baltimore Ravens, it looked like the same old Browns. It seemed like Kevin Stefanski was just the next Kitchens, Mike Pettine, Hue Jackson or Rob Chudzinski.

Maybe not.

Whatever happened in the season opener — despite what happened last Monday night, the Ravens are an elite team — Stefanski made the right adjustments. The Browns have used a great running game as their foundation, with the pass game playing off that. Even when Nick Chubb went down with an injury in the first half, the Browns still ran effectively. The Browns took a chance on Kareem Hunt after he was cut by the Chiefs for kicking and shoving a woman, and he’s paying off from a football sense. Hunt rushed for two touchdowns against Dallas. Baker Mayfield doesn’t have to do it all anymore thanks to the running game, and he looks more like rookie Mayfield than the quarterback who was lost last season. And the Browns even got creative, with receiver Jarvis Landry making a nice pass to Beckham for a touchdown.

The talent has been there for the Browns. They bottomed out and collected a lot of good players with their extra draft picks and oodles of salary-cap space. But it hadn’t clicked. Last season with Kitchens was hard to watch because Cleveland had a better roster than it showed.

It could finally be coming together. On Sunday, the Browns played what might have been their best half of football since rejoining the NFL in 1999. If it wasn’t their best half in 21 years, it’s on a short list.

The new version of the Browns have made the playoffs just once, at the end of the 2002 season, and have never won a postseason game. It’s early, but for the first time in a long time, there’s real hope those streaks get broken this year.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) and quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrate after Landry threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 4 of the NFL season:

The Chicago Bears have plenty of offensive issues, but credit Indianapolis. The Colts completely shut down Chicago in a 19-11 win, and that continues an impressive streak to start the season. The Colts were first in the NFL in points and yards allowed coming into Sunday’s games, and they were even better in Week 4.

The Colts defense has been helped a lot by the addition of DeForest Buckner to the line. Some of their other young players have gotten better and it’s made for an aggressive and fast unit. Just imagine if Andrew Luck was still the quarterback of this team.

The Colts aren’t great on offense but they might not have to be. The defense has taken a giant leap. It might be the best in the NFL this season.

The Bills have a different gear on offense with Josh Allen’s improvement and the addition of Stefon Diggs. Allen had two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in a 30-23 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. The defense is getting healthier and playing closer to its expected level. They got a couple of huge turnovers Sunday to change the momentum in a close game.

Unless the New England Patriots can upset the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday, the Bills will have a two-game lead in the AFC East. That doesn’t mean the Patriots would be dead in the division, but the Bills look like the type of team that can finally wrest the AFC East crown away.

Sunday was a great bounce back. Andrews scored a couple touchdowns, and the Ravens blew past the Washington Football Team 31-17.

It was redemption for the Ravens, too. It’s not like they fell off the NFL map just because the Chiefs dominated them, but it was nice to see the Ravens look good against a team they should handle. They’ll still have to figure out a way to beat the Chiefs, but that’s a few months down the road.

Mixon had a slow start to the season after signing a four-year, $ 48 million deal, but looked like peak Mixon on Sunday. Mixon scored on a 9-yard touchdown catch, then on runs of 34 and 23 yards in a 33-25 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Joe Burrow experienced his first win as an NFL quarterback, and he should thank Mixon for that. Mixon had 181 total yards.

Mixon was signed to a big deal when many teams have second thoughts about big running back extensions. A big reason was that Mixon can carry the offense as Burrow develops. On Sunday, we finally saw that plan in action.

Brady put himself on the map at LSU last season, orchestrating an offense that set records and helped Joe Burrow get a Heisman Trophy and national title. Brady’s success has translated to the NFL, and Bridgewater is benefitting.

Bridgewater had another solid day in the Carolina Panthers’ 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Bridgewater threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns. Even without Christian McCaffrey, Carolina can move the ball. Mike Davis has done a great job replacing McCaffrey, and Brady is doing a fine job using the Panthers’ other playmakers.

There are a few teams that will be looking for a new coach soon, and someone will gamble that the 31-year-old Brady is the NFL’s next big thing.

The bad news is he’s still a rookie.

Herbert had the Chargers in position to possibly steal a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but a late interception in the fourth quarter ended that. Tom Brady threw for five touchdowns even without Chris Godwin, shrugging off an early pick six and the Bucs won 38-31.

Overall, the Chargers have to love what they’ve seen from Herbert, their first-round pick. He had 290 yards and three touchdowns, making several impressive throws. It won’t be all good this season. Herbert will make some errors, but to this point, it looks like the Chargers made the right pick. In the big picture, that’s a pretty big victory for the Chargers even if they couldn’t win the game on Sunday.

The Giants had a chance to win on Sunday. Even after Cooper Kupp’s long touchdown put the Los Angeles Rams ahead 17-9, the Giants had a couple chances to score. And Jones couldn’t get it done. He threw an interception deep in Rams territory to end the game. Even without Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard, Jones has to be more effective than he has been.

It reflects poorly on Judge, who was a questionable hire and hasn’t won yet. It reflects even worse on Gettleman. Jones’ failure to develop so far this season makes Gettleman’s draft record look even worse. The Giants are 0-4, in tight competition with the New York Jets in the race to get the first pick of the draft, and there’s not much reason for optimism going forward.

That’s notable this season because Wilson is playing nearly perfect football otherwise. He threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns in the Seattle Seahawks’ 31-23 win over the Miami Dolphins. That was a tricky game with the Seahawks traveling east at 3-0, but Wilson was great as usual.

There are other players who are in the MVP mix, and no player has ever won MVP after a quarter of the season. But Wilson continued to put a lot of distance between himself and everyone else in the league.

The defense failed the Lions yet again. Any momentum from beating the Arizona Cardinals last week is gone after the Saints rolled off 35 unanswered points after falling behind 14-0 in the first five minutes of the game. A Saints offense that had some issues, with everyone questioning whether Drew Brees had lost it, was unstoppable even without Michael Thomas. New Orleans won 35-29. That’s a failure for the Lions defense, and the man who runs it.

Patricia has become an easy target. But he has done nothing in three seasons to show he is the right person for the job. His defenses have been bad, he has alienated a lot of people, and the Lions have lost a lot of games.

The Cardinals had a disappointing loss to the Detroit Lions and then looked bad in getting blasted by the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers don’t have Christian McCaffrey but still moved the ball at will. The Panthers’ defense isn’t good but looked just fine in shutting down Arizona. It was a bad loss for the Cardinals (and a really good win for Matt Rhule, who has the Panthers playing well after an 0-2 start). Most troubling, Kyler Murray and the offense stalled against an opponent they should have had success against.

The Cardinals still have a long way to go. They have talent, but they also have a lot of young players and consistency will be an issue. Maybe it’s a year early for the Cardinals. Sunday showed they haven’t arrived yet.

Johnson was the player in the Hopkins trade. The trade was universally panned and for good reason. On Sunday, Johnson had a chance to at least make up for it a bit. With the Houston Texans trailing the Minnesota Vikings 31-23 in the final minute, Johnson ran three yards to the 1-yard line but couldn’t get in. Then he was stopped for no gain. Johnson had a third chance to be the hero, and got a pitch on an option play from Deshaun Watson. He mishandled it and had to fall on the fumble. On fourth down, an apparent touchdown catch by Will Fuller was reversed when replays showed it hit the ground.

The Texans are 0-4. Bill O’Brien will be under even more heat. And the infamous trade won’t look any better.

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