CLEVELAND — The distractions disappeared in a pile of points.
The discussion of suspensions, fines and a helmet as a weapon was silenced by touchdown after touchdown from the team’s biggest stars.
The Browns returned to the field Sunday after a difficult 10 days. They got a rare easy win.
The Browns dominated the dreadful Dolphins early and late for a 41-24 win at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“At the end of the day, there is nothing else going on,” coach Freddie Kitchens said. “Our guys did a good job of staying focused during the course of the week. I really never had a doubt that they would.”
The Browns could’ve splintered after the brawl against the Steelers on Nov. 14 that led to defensive end Myles Garrett being indefinitely suspended. They went the other way.
“We came together as a team,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said.
Bring on the Steelers.
The Browns (5-6) will take a three-game winning streak — all at home — into Pittsburgh next Sunday for the rematch of the Browns’ 21-7 victory that ended with a melee, four ejections and more than $800,000 in fines. Quarterback Mason Rudolph, who got clubbed in the head with his helmet by Garrett, was benched by the Steelers (6-5) on Sunday in a 10-6 win over the Bengals.
The scene will certainly be intense as the rivals battle for position in the playoff chase. The Browns are only a game behind four 6-5 teams — the Steelers, Raiders, Colts and Titans — for the second AFC wild card spot.
“Playoff atmosphere,” Mayfield said. “We will see what happens.”
“Whatever it may be, we’re ready for it,” said defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who had two sacks on a line missing three starters.
Before the Browns could turn their attention to the Steelers — fans chanted “Pittsburgh sucks” in the first quarter — they had to take care of business against the Dolphins (2-9). They did, taking a 28-0 lead in the second quarter.
Receiver Jarvis Landry had been looking forward to playing the Dolphins since they traded him to the Browns in March 2018. His excitement was rewarded.
He caught 10 passes for 148 yards, including 7- and 5-yard touchdown passes in the first half. He also drew two pass interference penalties and a holding that was declined.
“It feels great to get a win and finish the game on a positive after everything that’s been going on,” Landry said.
Making Landry’s big day more special was a 35-yard touchdown catch by receiver and best friend Odell Beckham Jr. They hadn’t scored touchdowns in the same game since LSU beat Kent State on Sept. 14, 2013.
Beckham hadn’t reached the end zone since Week 2, and ended a career-long eight-game touchdown drought.
“They were making plays all day,” Mayfield said. “They are there when they need to be there making the plays we are counting on them to make, and they are doing it consistently for us.”
Everyone got involved early, with running back Kareem Hunt scoring on a 6-yard run with 1:01 left in the first half for a 28-0 lead. He jumped into the stands after his first touchdown with his hometown team. The Browns are 3-0 since he came off suspension.
“It was hitting on all cylinders today,” Richardson said of the offense.
The Dolphins then scored 17 straight points to make things interesting before 40- and 26-yard field goals by rookie Austin Seibert restored order. Nick Chubb ended the Cleveland scoring with a 5-yard touchdown run, giving him 106 yards on 21 carries.
Mayfield’s three-game streak without an interception ended in the third quarter when he threw behind Beckham on a slant. But Mayfield’s turnaround continued, as he went 24-for-34 for 327 yards, three touchdowns, the interception and a 118.1 passer rating.
“Baker knew exactly what he was doing all day,” Kitchens said. “He was efficient. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He was really good.”
The 41 points are a season high for the Browns, but Mayfield wasn’t satisfied.
“We still did not play nearly good enough, but we still scored 40 points,” he said. “Overall a win is a win. It was important for us to come out of here and get back on the field after everything.”
The defense played without three starters on the line — Garrett, suspended tackle Larry Ogunjobi and injured end Olivier Vernon — but got two interceptions from middle linebacker Joe Schobert. He also had two against the Steelers, giving him four in the last two games.
He said the Browns need to approach Steelers week with the same focus as last week.
“We’ve done it, got the mantra down, everybody understands how to do it,” Schobert said. “Going to Pittsburgh next week, there’s going to be a circus, but if we’re able to replicate what we did this week in practice and mentality-wise, I think we’ll be good.”
The Browns will be home again Dec. 8 to face the winless Bengals. After starting 0-3 on the lakefront, they swept the three-game homestand to save the season.
“It feels good to know that we have that comfort of coming back home, having that advantage of people need to fear coming to Cleveland,” Mayfield said. “Just getting into that groove, knowing that you are comfortable at home. You have the fans to rely on. You can feel that energy and build the momentum.”