CLEVELAND (AP)—Before his postgame news conference, Reuben Droughns slid the backpack from his shoulders, dropped it at his feet and shed the lightest load he had carried in days.
Any lingering shame or embarrassment had vanished. Back on the field, Droughns had outrun his past.
“I’m doing better,” Droughns said, flashing a smile.
Just days after apologizing to teammates and Cleveland fans following his arrest on a drunken driving charge, Droughns rushed for 116 yards and caught a crucial third-down pass for 51 more, powering the Browns over the Tennessee Titans 20-14 on Sunday.
The 27-year-old, who had expressed deep regret for his mistake, made up for it with his best all-around game this season. By the fourth quarter, as Droughns fought painful leg cramps, fans chanted “Reu-ben, Reu-ben.”
“For me, this is like my cathedral,” said Droughns, who also caught four passes for 73 yards. “But I wasn’t using what happened to me as motivation. I just poured my heart and soul into it.”
With the Browns clinging to a six-point lead, Droughns spent most of the final six minutes in the locker room being treated for dehydration, something he could later laugh about.
“It might be old age,” he said. “I’m in great shape. It’s just one of those things when I put so much into it.”
In the third quarter, Droughns caught a short screen pass over the middle and weaved 51 yards to set up Jason Wright’s 6-yard TD run—Cleveland’s first rushing touchdown in nearly a year.
Dennis Northcutt caught a 58-yard TD pass and had a 31-yard run on a reverse, and Phil Dawson kicked field goals of 37 and 19 yards as the Browns (3-5) held off the Titans to snap a three-game losing streak.
“It feels good,” said Browns rookie coach Romeo Crennel. “But it still came down to the last play. This week we made it.”
Dawson’s miss from 39 yards—his first miss in 17 tries this season—with 39 seconds left gave the Titans a final chance. Without any timeouts, Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair drove the Titans to Cleveland’s 28 with two seconds left.
But that didn’t end the afternoon for Titans rookie cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones and Browns safety Sean Jones, who exchanged pushes and shoves before being separated near the end zone.
“No man, we’re cool,” said Jones, who denied the two were fighting. “I’ve known him since I was in fourth grade.”
Cleveland quarterback Trent Dilfer, whose job security was becoming less certain with each loss, finished 18-of-34 for 272 yards in blustery conditions and threw his only interception on a desperation heave to end the first half.
Browns punter Kyle Richardson, too, atoned for some lousy performances by placing three kicks inside the 20-yard line.
“We showed really good resolve,” Dilfer said. “We pumped each other up. All week in practice we had our pom-poms and skirts on and we were cheerleaders for each other.”
Tennessee’s Chris Brown had a 15-yard TD run in the fourth and Erron Kinney a 24-yard scoring reception for the young Titans (2-7), who have lost four in a row but now get a bye week to get rested and healthier.
“It’s a perfect time for us both mentally and physically to heal and get our minds away from the game,” said McNair, who went 18-for-41 for 235 yards. “We’re learning from all these losses.”
Brown carried 22 times for 95 yards, and brought the Titans within 20-14 on his 15-yard TD with 7:13 left.
With William Green and Lee Suggs injured, the Browns activated Wright from the practice squad on Thursday. After Dilfer hit Droughns underneath for 51 on the inside screen, Wright took a handoff and powered his way into the end zone for his first career TD, giving Cleveland a 17-7 lead.
It was also the Browns’ first rushing TD this season and their first since Nov. 28 of last season—a span of 50 quarters.
“I wasn’t thinking, I was running,” Wright said. “Then I thought, ‘Hey, that’s a touchdown.”’
Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of owner Art Modell’s announcement that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore. … Browns OG Cosey Coleman will undergo an MRI on Monday for a sprained right knee. … The Titans nearly converted on two faked punts, but one was called back for holding and punter Craig Hentrich underthrew Donnie Nickey on the other. … The Browns have forced a turnover in 21 straight games.