| Akron Beacon Journal
CLEVELAND — The defense delivered without its top playmaker and running back Kareem Hunt’s leap of faith paid off as the Browns prevailed Sunday to remain in the thick of a tight AFC playoff race.
Playing for the first time this season without their most valuable player — defensive end Myles Garrett – the Browns gutted out a 22-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on a chilly, rainy day at FirstEnergy Stadium.
At 7-3, the Browns have their best record through 10 games since 1994, when they started 8-2. They’re also 5-1 at home for the first time since 2007 and moved into second place in the AFC North.
Garrett landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday after testing positive for the virus, so the Browns desperately needed other defenders to rise to the occasion in his absence.
Linebacker Sione Takitaki and defensive end Olivier Vernon were among those who answered the bell.
Takitaki returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown with 13:35 left in the second quarter. Vernon tied a career high with three sacks, the last of which resulted in a safety with 3:11 remaining in the third quarter. The Browns finished with three takeaways, including the interception cornerback Denzel Ward registered against Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz with 2:01 left to play.
The defense finished with five sacks and propped up the Browns for the vast majority of the game, but the offense assembled a crucial scoring drive capped by Hunt.
A series after the Eagles trimmed their deficit to 12-10 when Jake Elliott made a 43-yard field goal with 11:24 remaining in the fourth quarter, the elite running back tandem of Hunt and Nick Chubb dominated during a four-play, 79-yard drive.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield connected with wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge for 18 yards, Chubb delivered a nasty stiff-arm during a spectacular 54-yard run and Mayfield rushed for 2 yards.
Then on second-and-goal, Hunt carried the ball off the right side, leaped at the 5 to hurdle safety Jalen Mills and crash-landed in the front right corner of the end zone. The 5-yard rushing touchdown and Cody Parkey’s successful ensuing extra point gave the Browns a 19-10 advantage with 9:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Later, Parkey made a 28-yard field goal to extend the Browns’ lead to 22-10 with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles sliced their deficit to five points when Wentz threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Goedert with 30 seconds remaining, but rookie tight end Harrison Bryant recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the Browns’ victory.
In the third consecutive Browns game featuring ugly weather, Chubb rushed for 114 yards on 20 carries (5.7 average), and Hunt added 11 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown. Chubb became the first running back to reach the 100-yard rushing mark this season against the Eagles (3-6-1).
Mayfield went 12-of-22 passing (54.5%) for 204 yards without a touchdown or an interception. He posted a passer rating of 86.2 and took three sacks.
The Browns passed on Wentz in the 2016 draft by trading the No. 2 overall pick the Eagles used on him. He defeated the Browns as a rookie but struggled Sunday, going 21-of-35 passing (60%) for 235 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. His rating was 75.3.
The Eagles tied the score early in the third quarter after defensive tackle Fletcher Cox pushed right guard Wyatt Teller back and used his right hand to strip-sack Mayfield. Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton recovered the fumble deep in Cleveland territory with 11:59 left in the third quarter.
On the next play, Wentz threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers, who was wide open in the back of the end zone. Elliott made the ensuing extra point to tie the score 7-7 with 11:53 remaining in the third quarter.
The Browns countered right away, though. Their five-play, 47-yard drive stalled three snaps after Mayfield and Hodge connected for 42 yards on a deep pass, but Parkey made a 46-yard field goal to give the Browns a 10-7 edge with 8:59 left in the third quarter.
The Browns went ahead 12-7 when Vernon beat left tackle Jason Peters to sack Wentz in the end zone for a safety late in the third quarter.
The next series ended with Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett blocking Parkey’s 47-yard field goal with 13:54 left in the fourth quarter, then cutting the Browns’ edge to two points with Elliott’s 43-yard field goal.
However, Mayfield, Chubb and Hunt fired back just in time.
A 2019 third-round draft pick, Takitaki lived up to his status as Cleveland’s game captain by making the biggest play of his career, and the Browns scored first with their second takeaway of the game.
A split-second after Ward hit Wentz on a cornerback blitz, Takitaki intercepted a pass at the 50 intended for running back Miles Sanders in the left flat and ran the other way for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
Both teams blew golden opportunities to reach the end zone in the first quarter.
The Eagles advanced to the Cleveland 5 during the game’s opening possession, but rookie defensive tackle Jordan Elliott forced Sanders to fumble, and strong safety Karl Joseph recovered at the Cleveland 4 with 7:56 left in the first quarter. Joseph had entered the game because starter Ronnie Harrison suffered a knee injury eight plays earlier with 12:43 remaining in the first quarter. Harrison returned to the action briefly, then left the game again for good.
The turnover caused by Elliott snapped the Browns’ two-game streak without a takeaway. Those clutch defensive plays helped the Browns lead at halftime despite being outgained by the Eagles 175-123 through two quarters.
After Elliott’s forced fumble, the Browns marched from their 4 to the Philadelphia 1. On fourth-and-goal, Hunt nearly scored on a draw out of the shotgun formation. The play was initially ruled a 1-yard rushing touchdown with 1:08 left in the first quarter, but it was overturned after replay review because Hunt’s left elbow hit the ground with the ball short of the goal line.
As a result, the Browns were haunted by Mayfield missing on two throws into the end zone earlier during the same series.
Mayfield underthrew rookie tight end Harrison Bryant, but cornerback Avonte Maddox bailed out the Browns by committing a pass interference penalty against Bryant.
Two plays after the penalty gave the Browns first-and-goal at the 1, Mayfield threw too high to connect with tight end Austin Hooper, who was wide open in the back of the end zone with 1:53 left in the first quarter.
The Browns were far from perfect, but they still found a way to win.
They snapped a five-game losing streak against the Eagles and prevailed in the series for the first time since Nov. 13, 1994. They also improved to 3-0 against NFC East opponents for the first time in a season since 1988.