Apparently the 13th time is the charm for the Cleveland Browns. That's how many road games it's taken for the team to pick up a win, and they did so in textbook manner on Sunday, defeating the Oakland Raiders, 20-17. The win was Cleveland's second in a row, something the team had not done since early last season.
Despite two Brandon Weeden interceptions, the Browns managed to put together a 10-3 lead to close the first half. With Oakland seemingly incapable of coming from behind and stealing a victory, the Browns found themselves in a good situation even though they only had a seven-point lead.
In the second half, Cleveland's offense started firing on all cylinders. They had just 218 yards in the first half, but ended the game with 475 and didn't turn the ball over again. It was a balanced effort, with 36 pass plays and 30 runs, and one that involved every weapon at their disposal.
Weeden ended the day with 25 completions on his 36 pass attempts, for 364 yards, a touchdown and those two first-quarter interceptions. It was his best yardage day since Week 4, thanks primarily to a prodigious performance by wide receiver Josh Gordon. The rookie had his best game of the season, with six catches on seven targets for 116 yards and a touchdown, a 44-yarder in the second quarter.
In total, Weeden targeted nine different Browns, and Gordon wasn't the only one who produced. Tight end Ben Watson caught six of the nine passes thrown his way, for 80 yards and Mohamed Massaquoi's two catches included one for 54 yards that was aided by a brutal block thrown by fellow receiver Greg Little.
The run game wasn't as masterful when it came to yards—they had just 122 on the day—and running back Trent Richardson had only 72 yards on his 20 carries, but that also included a three-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter that ultimately cemented the victory.
On defense, the Browns were far stronger against the run than the pass—not surprising, considering how anemic the Raiders' run game has been all season. Oakland had just 85 total yards on its 17 rushing attempts, compared to quarterback Carson Palmer's 351 yards. Granted, Palmer attempted 54 passes and completed 34 of them, and puts up big yardage totals week after week without it resulting in Raiders wins.
Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown picked Palmer off once, and Juqua Parker sacked him once as well. Cleveland appeared to struggle in coverage against tight end Brandon Myers, with Myers pulling down 14-of-15 passes thrown his way, for 130 yards and an inconsequential last-second touchdown, and, to a lesser extent, first-year receiver Rod Streater, who had three receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Ultimately, though, the Raiders can't get much going offensively until they've found themselves playing from behind, and when they do, all the yards in the world don't seem to translate to points. They were ripe for the picking this week, and instead of the Browns losing on the road or finding a way to give up a sure victory in the game's waning minutes, they stepped up, held their lead and left town with a win.
That makes it two games in a row for the Browns where they have not squandered their chance to win, which represents quite a turnaround from the always-finding-a-way-to-lose team of the weeks previous. The Browns now have four wins, matching their total from last season, with four games left to play.
With the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town next, it seems more than possible the Browns could extend their streak to three, something they haven't accomplished since the end of the 2009 season. The Browns seem to finally resemble a "normal" NFL team—they're winning games they should win, they're minimizing the impact of their mistakes and they're going on the road and getting a victory.
Progress in Cleveland this season may have been incremental and sometimes halting, but after the past two weeks, it's most certainly measurable.