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Commentary: A complete game, more improvement, a winning record … Browns finally look like a functional franchise

If you had “six years” in the “How long will the Browns go without having a winning record?” pool — you win.

The Browns now have a winning record.

On Sunday they beat the Washington No Names 34-20 to push their record to unfathomable heights: 2-1. It’s the first time the Browns have won more games than they’ve lost since the Mike Pettine Era. On Dec. 7, 2014, they had a record of 7-6. That’s right, they went six years between winning records. Not that anybody was counting or anything.

Following Sunday’s game, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski refused to take the bait when asked about his personal jubilation factor over getting that particular gorilla off the organization’s back.

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Stefanski flat-lined.

“We’re trying to go 1-0 every week,” he monotoned.

Next question?

Browns 34, Washington 20: Cleveland capitalizes on turnovers, improves to 2-1 for 1st time since 2011

Hey, Rome wasn’t built in six years, and Stefanski is only three games into his NFL head coaching career. But Sunday was another significant milestone, besides it being a history-making win.

On Sunday the Browns played their most complete game yet, which is important, but also encouraging, because it shows growth by the players and the coaching staff. They’ve gotten better with every game, which is not easy in today’s NFL.

After falling behind 7-0 in the first quarter, the Browns outscored Washington 34-13 the rest of the way. Cleveland’s defense forced five turnovers and the offense didn’t commit any.

“Good teams win whenever they go plus-five in turnovers. That’s darn good,” said Stefanski.

The showstopping turnover was Myles Garrett’s coup de grace fourth-quarter trifecta, when he sacked the No Names’ quarterback, forced him to fumble and then recovered the fumble. Not on three plays. On one play.

“No sack is complete if you don’t get the ball,” said Garrett.

The sackee was Dwayne Haskins, the former Ohio State quarterback, who must have felt like he was playing for Rutgers. The Browns sacked him three times, intercepted him three times and hung a 58.6 quarterback rating around his logo-less helmet.

For the Browns it was a solid, workmanlike win, the kind that solid, workmanlike, and perhaps playoff-bound, teams win.

“We’ve got to start changing history here. We’ve got to do this every week,” said Garrett.

The Browns weren’t perfect, but they surged in all the right areas at all the right times to grab the game by the throat in the second half. When the offense sputtered, Stefanski called on his two ground hogs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, to churn out important yardage behind a Browns offensive line that got better as the game unfolded.

Elsewhere on the offense, here’s a thought: Baker Mayfield, game manager?

Maybe he doesn’t need to be Drew Brees for the Browns to win. Maybe Mayfield’s Sunday is enough. His 117.3 quarterback rating reads better than it looked, but you can’t quibble with the result. There were some chaotic scrambles and the occasional misfire, but he got a lot of help from the well-publicized weapons surrounding him, and he didn’t take any crazy gambles or make any major mistakes.

“Offensively, we could have played better in the first half,” Mayfield said. “I could have done better to keep the chains moving. I could have played way better.”

That’s probably true, but he was good enough. He completed 16 of 23 passes — none of them to the other team — for 156 yards and two touchdowns. He did get sacked twice on a couple of his patented “abandon ship!” freelance escapades. But overall, it was a safe, efficient performance.

It was a performance that didn’t scream “Pro Bowl” but it also didn’t scream “DeShone Kizer.” Maybe this quarterback playing just OK is enough for this team to win.

“Baker did a nice job of operating,” said Stefanski, revealingly.

The Browns are three games into their season and they’ve shown progress every week. It’s exactly the kind of progression that’s needed for this team to grow under Stefanski, and for Stefanski to grow coaching this team.

It’s certainly not just a breath, but a typhoon of fresh air from the last several years, when the Browns’ ship seemed rudderless and captain-less in a turbulent, unforgiving sea.

Last year’s madness has given way to this year’s steady, mature, drumbeat of improvement. Hey, the Browns haven’t had a single 18-penalty game yet, there’s been no shouting matches on the sidelines and their coach hasn’t been photographed wearing a “Pittsburgh Started It” T-shirt.

If that’s not progress, this isn’t football.

The Browns have won two games in a row and played better in each of them. Sunday in Dallas will be their biggest challenge since the messy, season-opening spanking in Baltimore.

The Browns defense is still not completely healthy, but the five turnovers and three interceptions Sunday prove the personnel decisions and performances are improving.

Don’t look now, but all of a sudden, the Browns are looking like a fully functional football franchise.

How refreshing.

 

Jim Ingraham is a sports columnist for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and the Medina Gazette. Contact him at 329-7135 or [email protected] and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter

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