CLEVELAND: After rookie Travis Benjamin’s 93-yard punt return for a touchdown lifted the Browns to a three-point halftime lead, offensive coordinator Brad Childress addressed his players in the locker room and urged them to hold up their end of the bargain.
“Coach Childress came in and said, ‘As an offense, guys haven’t done anything yet, and we’re too good to not be doing anything,’ ” rookie running back Trent Richardson said. “We came out in the second half and had a big spark.”
The Browns orchestrated a seven-play, 60-yard touchdown drive during the first series of the third quarter and their 30-7 rout of the visiting Kansas City Chiefs was in full swing Sunday afternoon. The Browns have won three games in a row for the first time since 2009, when former coach Eric Mangini secured his job for another year by guiding them to four consecutive wins to end the season.
“We’re starting to turn the corner to the point we know we can win,” said Josh Cribbs, whose two carries for 15 yards out of the wildcat formation were a product of the offense’s most-creative game plan of the season. “Everybody’s saying, ‘Three in a row. Wow!’ We’re saying, ‘No, we’re good.’ Once we got ahead we said, ‘Let’s blow them out, let’s finish’ and we were able to do that.”
After allowing Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles to break free for an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, the Browns (5-8) scored 30 unanswered points for the first time since 1991. They also earned their largest margin of victory since 2003, a drastic change from the nail-biters to which they have grown accustomed in recent years.
“I’m not used to that math,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said of cruising to a lopsided win. “We were up three scores, and I said, ‘Really?’ No, I’m teasing. I’m just happy. It’s good to finish games in a different way sometimes.”
Richardson capped the opening drive of the second half with the first of his two 1-yard rushing touchdowns. Richardson scored four plays after tight end Benjamin Watson kept the march alive by knocking a potential interception from the grasp of strong safety Eric Berry.
“Eric Berry only has one hand. He’s got a cast on one hand. Thank God,” rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “And then Ben played defense well. Thank God. But, yeah, I owe Ben a little something-something.”
The entire team owes Benjamin, a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, because he gave it a lift by reeling off the longest punt return in franchise history. The first of Phil Dawson’s three field goals and Benjamin’s highlight-reel return with 14:40 left in the second quarter gave the Browns a 10-7 halftime advantage despite a dreadful start.
“That was the biggest play of the game as far as momentum and to get a lead for us,” said Weeden, who completed 17-of-30 passes for 217 yards without a touchdown or a turnover. “And we were able to keep it.”
Not only did the Browns maintain the lead, but they also kept extending it. Weeden avoided another interception late in the third quarter when free safety Tysyn Hartman dropped the ball in the end zone. After running back Montario Hardesty recovered his own fumble near the goal line, Richardson bolted into the end zone with 14:17 remaining in the fourth quarter for his ninth rushing touchdown of the season, tying Jim Brown’s franchise record for the most rushing touchdowns by a rookie.
“We’re putting something together here,” Richardson said. “And it’s going to be beautiful.”
Coming off an emotionally draining week in which the organization was devastated by linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide, the Chiefs (2-11) didn’t seem to have much left after Charles’ big run. The Browns pitched a shutout the rest of the way.
Charles finished with 18 carries for 165 yards, but two former Browns were limited — quarterback Brady Quinn had 159 passing yards and running back Peyton Hillis had five carries for 11 yards. The Chiefs converted only 1-of-11 third-down attempts. Cornerback Sheldon Brown deflected a pass and rookie safety Tashaun Gipson intercepted it with 11:05 left in the third quarter to set up a field goal by Dawson.
“We bounced back from [Charles’ touchdown],” middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “Guys didn’t lose their heads. We stayed up and stayed the course.”
The Browns prevailed for the fifth time in the past eight games thanks to the defense stopping the bleeding, the special teams providing some much-needed momentum and the offense responding to Childress’ challenge.
“It’s important,” Watson said. “It’s big for us. We’ve had a lot of very close games that we haven’t won and had some heartbreakers. So it’s good to put it all together as a total team — offense, defense and special teams — and to come out with a win. It’s very satisfying.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.