Cleveland’s 49-38 win over the Cowboys on Sunday might be more significant than you think.
Time to flashback to September of 1999 for a moment. Yes, this was the return of professional football to Cleveland after a four-year absence. Their home opener was set against the Pittsburgh Steelers as old rivals kicked off a new era for the 70,000 plus watching at Cleveland Browns Stadium. It was the beginning of the modern-day Browns franchise, and the Steelers wasted no time setting the tone for the next 20 years of Browns football.
43-0 was the final score, but a quick overview of the box score details that the victorious Steelers could have had way more. Pittsburgh outgained Cleveland in total yards 464-40. I am one to make typos my friends, but not in this case. The Browns were dismantled in their debut by a 400-plus yard margin. Pittsburgh picked up 33 first downs in the game while the Browns stumbled their way to just two. The Steelers held the football for nearly 48 minutes of a 60-minute regulation football game. If I had to describe this game in one word: beatdown.
Picture this game against Pittsburgh as the opening drive to the Browns painful rebirth. The Steelers nabbed the momentum right from the beginning, and in the multiple decades since, the Browns have not recovered.
…Until this past Sunday?
To the surprise of most NFL experts, the Browns dropped 49 points against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington to secure a significant week 4 victory. For the first time since 2001, the Browns have a record of 3-1 or better.
Cleveland was outscored 24-8 in the fourth quarter, and if not for the amazing 50-yard touchdown run by Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns could have blown a 27-point fourth quarter lead. Here’s the thing though: the Browns having a 27-point lead in Dallas was wild to begin with.
The players representing “The Dawg Pound” started playing bully ball against the Dallas defense and never let up. Running back Nick Chubb racked up 6 carriers for over 7 yards per attempt before exiting the game with an MCL sprain. In his absence, running backs Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson powered their way to the tune of a combined 24 carries for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cleveland’s offensive line has solidified what should be regarded as the best running game in the NFL.
There remains a long road ahead to determine whether or not this season will be different than years past for Northeast Ohio football fans. Still, the 307 team rushing yards felt different. The 27-unanswered points to gain a 41-14 lead felt different. The road victory against a preseason Super Bowl contender felt different. Most of all, the Browns making huge plays at the end of the game felt different. We might have just witnessed the most important Browns victory since 1999.
Look on the bright side!
If you are a Browns fan, you have every right to argue with me on this. We can at least agree that the past 20 seasons have been a disaster. A 1-15 season, an 0-16 season after that, and countless quarterbacks, head coaches, and front office personnel walking in and out the door. Yet through all of the turmoil, even Cleveland has had their moments of hope throughout the 21st century.
In 2002 they rolled out a playoff team and pulled off some crucial wins down the stretch, including the week 17 clincher against the Atlanta Falcons. I’m sure for many Browns fans, that game stands out as the highlight victory for the franchise.
Five years later they recorded the only 10-win season through this 20-year futility stretch. Quarterback Derek Anderson was at the helm of an offense that finished in the top ten in total yardage that season. Anderson, along with five other offensive starters including receivers Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, got invited to the 2007-08 Pro Bowl. Some of their big wins included overtime victories against the division rival Baltimore Ravens and the eventual 10-6 Seattle Seahawks. Unlike Seattle, the Browns missed out on the playoffs as the Tennessee Titans narrowly held the tiebreaker.
There have certainly been some outlier upsets over the years as well. Most notably the Peyton Hillis game against New England in 2010. Even though the Browns were a 2-5 team not doing particularly anything special, defeating the 6-1 Patriots by 20 points remains a pretty darn cool moment. Hillis rushed for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns, while the Browns defense forced 3 turnovers on the day. New England would not lose another game for the remainder of the regular season while the Browns would sludge the rest of the way to a 5-11 record. Hey, we can at least say this game was mainly responsible for landing Peyton Hillis on a Madden NFL cover. Cleveland fans do indeed rock.
We also should not forget week 4 of last season against Baltimore. The Browns pulled off the 40-25 upset victory at M&T Bank Stadium to take sole possession of first place in the AFC North. At the time, the expectations for the Browns in 2019 made the win feel only somewhat significant. For the first time in a long time, there was a major win that many fans across the country were not surprised to see. But things went totally downhill from there. Browns fans watched their season spiral out of control while their former franchise in Baltimore followed New England’s 2010 footsteps and won out the remainder of the regular season.
I truly think the disappointment of last season for Cleveland makes this upset over Dallas all the more important. After a blowout loss to those pesky Ravens in week 1 there are signs that first year coach Kevin Stefanski has maybe, just maybe, figured things out. As their neighbors less than 200 miles to the northeast in Buffalo can agree, its about time!
One last note: quick shoutout to the 2014 Browns who started that season 6-3 with quarterback Brian Hoyer. I thought they had things figured out then, too.