CLEVELAND — With Hurricane Sandy dropping rain, cold, wind and slop on Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur encouraged his young team to play the game like kids playing in the rain.
“It reminded me of like a high school game where it’s just sloppy and everyone keeps falling all over the place and you’re just scratching and clawing for every yard, and we came out on top in the end,” left guard John Greco said.
In the minutes after a hang-on-for-dear-life 7-6 win Sunday over the San Diego Chargers (3-4), the kids turned into mature adults. Shurmur was about to give them the standard Monday off following a midseason victory when the team stopped him in his tracks.
“We feel like we don’t deserve a day off,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We’ve got too much work to do.”
Shurmur was delighted by the response, relieved by a second straight home victory that improved the Browns to 2-6 at the halfway point and presented a game ball to owner Jimmy Haslam. The $1 billion transaction went through Thursday, so he’s officially 1-0.
“You always want to put a smile on his face,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who led a defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in six quarters and got fourth-down stops in Cleveland territory to start and end the game.
One of the biggest smiles belonged to rookie running back Trent Richardson. He rushed for a career-high 122 yards and the game’s lone touchdown, and NFL legend Jim Brown was waiting at his locker to offer congratulations.
Richardson, who again “proudly” wore a flak jacket to protect his injured rib cartilage, had been yanked in the second quarter a week earlier after eight rushes for 8 yards in a loss to the Colts. Gone Sunday were much of the pain and hesitation, replaced by tenacity and a 5.1 average on 24 carries against a run defense that entered allowing a league-low 3.5 a carry.
“There’s no way they’re going to take me out of this game this week,” Richardson said an hour after the game as he was “still thawing out” from the 44-degree day.
Shurmur had no reason to pull his workhorse. Not after a dazzling 26-yard run completed the Browns’ first possession.
Richardson bounced the run to the right, broke two tackles and found himself past the defense but in the arms of Greco and right guard Shawn Lauvao. They straightened him up and sent him on his way into the Dawg Pound.
“I don’t think the secondary want no problems,” said Richardson, who scored his fifth rushing touchdown. “Shawn Lauvao was talking to me, ‘Go, go, go.’ It was funny to me. I’m telling him thank you while he’s pushing me.”
Touchdown, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, kneeldown is nowhere to be found in the coaches’ manual. But that’s how Cleveland’s possessions ended.
Shurmur said the conditions — script Ohio was still visible on the turf hours after the Ohio State band’s halftime performance — demanded a close-to-the-vest approach. Close-to-the-poncho and close-to-the-parka also worked.
“I haven’t had a game like that since ’06 when I played with the Royals,” quarterback and former minor league pitcher Brandon Weeden said of the 7-6 score. “I’ve never been a part of a football game like that. As long as I’m on the good end of it, that’s all that matters.”
Weeden went 11-for-27 for 129 yards, two sacks and a 55.9 rating. He couldn’t get a grip on the wet ball when he barely overthrew wide-open Benjamin Watson for what would’ve been a touchdown — “I basically palmed it. It felt like I threw a change-up out there,” Weeden said — and his receivers dropped four passes.
But he managed the game, picked up three crucial first downs on Cleveland’s last drive that started at the 3-yard line and ended with a punt to the San Diego 12 and didn’t throw an interception.
“You’ve got to be smart with the football,” Weeden said. “If it’s not absolutely just 100 percent wide open, either check it down or throw it away.
“I wasn’t going to do anything on my end to cost us a chance. I told myself on the sideline, ‘Listen, don’t be a moron, don’t screw this thing up and we’ve got a chance to win it.’”
That’s because the defense took advantage of the conditions and limited the Chargers to two field goals and 265 yards. Quarterback Philip Rivers was 18-for-34 for 154 yards, a sack and a 65.1 rating. Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates was held to two catches for 14 yards, with safety T.J. Ward and nickelback Buster Skrine providing much of the coverage.
Rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson forced a Ryan Mathews (95 yards, 4.0 average) fumble and rookie defensive tackle Billy Winn recovered it for the day’s only turnover. And San Diego receiver Robert Meachem dropped a touchdown pass with 8:52 left in the third quarter when the Browns blew a coverage.
“I saw in warmups they couldn’t catch the ball, they couldn’t kick the ball,” receiver/returner Joshua Cribbs said. “And neither could we. I knew it was going to be that type of day.”
Weeden said the defense didn’t have to apologize for anything.
“Let’s not kid anybody here, our defense won us that football game,” he said.
“To keep an explosive team like that out of the end zone, that’s a terrific job by our defense,” Shurmur said.
Veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown played his part. He was also one of the veterans who decided a working Monday was in order.
“We are too young. We haven’t accomplished or proved anything yet,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s a great group of guys because they are willing to put in the work to do it.”
Haslam appreciated the effort and wants more of the same.
“He was like it’s a good start, great effort and you have to become greedy,” Brown said. “He wants to win a lot of games. He’s not satisfied and he said, ‘Sheldon, are you?’ And I said, ‘Hell, no.’ I think he is a winner.”
He was Sunday.
Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.