Browns storm Titans with first-half blitz, hang on to clinch first winning season since 2007

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The Cleveland Browns just might be for real, folks.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, the Browns’ resume read pretty thinly, with only one of their eight victories coming against a team with a winning record. The Titans, meanwhile, were the home team in this game and came in with the same 8-3 mark against a more robust schedule.

Well, you can throw out that narrative following Cleveland’s stunning 41-35 victory.

The Browns scored on their first six possessions, closing out the first half with five straight touchdowns that included some fancy trickery.

The win guaranteed the franchise’s first winning season since 2007. And with their fourth straight victory, the Browns are closing in on their first playoff berth since 2002.

The Browns' 38 first-half points were a franchise record. Their previous record was 35 points in a 1989 win over the Bucs.

Baker Mayfield (6) and the Cleveland Browns are 9-3 after a statement win over the Tennessee Titans. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Baker Mayfield (6) and the Cleveland Browns are 9-3 after a statement win over the Tennessee Titans. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Things got dicey early in the second half as the Titans tried to roar back. Trailing 38-7 at halftime, Tennessee scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the third quarter, using up just over three minutes of clock combined.

Would this be another game like the Browns’ win over the Dallas Cowboys, when they led by 27 points in the fourth quarter and had to sweat out a late win? It looked that way for stretches. The Titans capitalized on a Baker Mayfield fumble trying to run out the clock to cut the lead to six points with less than a minute left, but the Browns recovered the ensuing onside kick.

And the much-ballyhooed running game we were promised? It never materialized as the Browns slung their way to a big lead and helped take Derrick Henry out of the game as the Titans tried in vain to make it a game.

Piping-hot Baker Mayfield

Mayfield threw for a season-high 334 yards yards on 25 of 33 completions with four touchdowns and no picks.

His four TD passes went to four different receivers — Jarvis Landry, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Rashard Higgins and ... offensive lineman Kendall Lamm. It was Lamm’s first NFL touchdown reception.

Over his past six games, Mayfield has completed 102 of 157 passes for 1,347 yards with an 11-1 TD-INT ratio.

Safe to say he’s turned his once-disappointing season around? Even with the late fumble, it’s safe to say this was Mayfield’s best performance of the season against a quality opponent.

In the game’s first 24 minutes, Mayfield completed 17 of 21 passes for 252 yards with the four scores, and one of those incompletions was a dropped touchdown pass.

Mayfield and Otto Graham are the only players in Browns history with four TD passes in the first half of a game. Sunday would have been the legendary Graham’s 99th birthday.

Browns defense does its job

Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett, after missing the previous two weeks on the COVID-19 list, had a big fourth-quarter sack to end a Titans drive. The Browns’ defense, which is still missing cornerback Denzel Ward, gave up some ground in the second half but otherwise played a solid game.

The Titans entered the game with an NFL-low five turnovers — the fewest for a team to this point of the season since 1960. But they gave the ball away twice in the first half, as well as turning it over on downs on their opening drive.

The first fumble came from Henry, who last lost a fumble last season, which set the Browns up at the Tennessee 21-yard line. They scored six plays later, as Lamm’s TD shockingly made it 17-0 Cleveland.

The Browns looked like they might be giving the game away, bailing the Titans out late in the third quarter with a big pass-interference penalty, a Titans fumble they couldn’t recover and two fourth-down conversions by Tennessee.

But Titans QB Ryan Tannehill had his on-target throw dropped by Adam Humphries, caroming into the hands of the Browns’ M.J Stewart Jr. at the Cleveland 9-yard line. It was Stewart’s first NFL pick in his 33rd career game.

Even with the late-game thrust, the Titans didn’t have enough, falling to 8-4.

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