It was a reunion in Minnesota for Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, who was previously the offensive coordinator for the Vikings. Stefanski had been with the organization since 2006. This seemed to be an even matchup on paper as both teams have productive quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and have pesky defensive players. During the early stages of the game, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had his way as he found open receivers and moved quickly down the field.
Minnesota mixed and matched their play calling as they rushed the ball five times and threw the ball five times. Minnesota did not want to settle for a field goal, so they went for it on a fourth and one play. Full back C.J. Ham converted on the 4th down play and extended their drive. One play later, Cousins placed a perfect throw into the chest of wide receiver Justin Jefferson for a 12-yard touchdown pass that resulted in over a seven-minute drive.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was given so much time in the pocket and was able to find open receivers for big gains. Cleveland was able to get into the red zone, though they came up empty as they went for it on a fourth and four play. Mayfield tried to elope from defensive end Everson Griffin. Unfortunately, Baker was sacked and therefore Cleveland had a loss of downs. Both teams had caused multiple three-and-outs as neither side was able to muster any kind of offense.
Nearing the two-minute mark, Baker started to throw short passes to running backs Demetric Felton and Kareem Hunt which were vastly effective due to superb blocking from the offensive linemen and tight ends. Towards the end of the second quarter, Cleveland was in near the end zone and went for it on fourth down. Baker scrambled to his right and was unable to find a receiver, though there was a flag on the play for holding against Minnesota. On a third-down play, Baker handed the ball off to running back Kareem Hunt who charged up the middle and found his way into the end zone. Cleveland opted to go for the two-point conversion and was successful due to a play-action fake that found full back Andy Janovich in the end zone.
The Browns got the ball back with 35 seconds remaining and on a 3rd and 20 play. They fed the ball to Kareem Hunt, who shifted left and right behind his lineman and found open room to rip off a huge run of 33 yards to put the Browns close to field goal range. Baker put the Browns in a position to walk away with more points as wide receiver Rashard Higgins made a leaping grab near the sideline. Chase McLaughlin nailed a 48 – yard field goal to put the Browns up 11-7 at halftime.
In the second half, both defenses continued to get after the quarterback, which resulted in sacks for both teams on third down plays. The Browns turned to running back Nick Chubb, who started to heat up as he was gaining solid yards. Baker tried to go for a home run ball on a third and seven play, which was short to intended target wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The score remained 11-7 Browns heading into the final quarter of the game.
Minnesota was successful on third-down passing plays, as they had converted 66% of the time. After getting the ball back, Cleveland made progress. They methodically moved downfield with combinations of passing and running plays. Cleveland had to settle on a field goal, as former Brown, now Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson batted down a pass on a third and nine play. Chase McLaughlin notched three points on a 53- yard field goal. Kirk Cousins tried to grab the momentum for Minnesota, as he hurled a deep ball down the field; cornerback Greedy Williams had excellent coverage and snatched the ball away from the defender and registered the only interception of the game.
Kareem Hunt went back to work and melted down the clock, as he powered his way to a first down. Cleveland could not enhance the lead; therefore, Minnesota had the chance with over three minutes to change the complexion of the game as tailback Dalvin Cook bounced his way left and right before earning a first down. Cleveland missed a golden opportunity as Beckham Jr was wide open and surely would have caught a touchdown pass had Mayfield not thrown it behind him. Minnesota made it interesting as they were able to push the ball down the field, though the Browns defense was able to deny a miracle in Minneapolis.
The Browns record now stands at 3-1 and will continue on the road, as they travel to Los Angeles to play a talented two-win Chargers team next Sunday.