CLEVELAND (AP) — Myles Garrett vowed to put the past — and a regrettable incident — behind him. This was going to be a different season for him and the Cleveland Browns.
A new beginning.
So far, Garrett’s kept his word.
He had another dominant performance on Sunday, getting two sacks and forcing and recovering a game-sealing fumble in the fourth quarter as the Browns beat The Washington Football Team 34-20 to improve to 2-1 for the first time since 2011.
Three games into 2020, the Browns have a winning record. While that wouldn’t cause a ripple in a lot of NFL cities, this is Cleveland after all, where the beloved football squad has produced mostly misery and hasn’t been over .500 since 2014 — a span of 90 consecutive weeks.
It’s a nice turnaround for the Browns, and it’s an impressive one for Garrett, who was suspended for the final six games in 2019 after his infamous helmet-swinging incident on Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph in the closing seconds of a game.
But while not forgotten, the moment inspired and motivated Garrett to be better and the star defensive end has been everything the Browns could have hoped. All of Cleveland’s best players — Garrett, Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Chubb — made plays.
“We are counting on those guys,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “As coaches, we try and put them in spots to succeed. Those guys are really talented football players, and I am counting on them and their teammates are counting on them, and they come through. That is the nature of this beast.”
For the second week in a row, Garrett, who spent the week hearing about Washington’s rookie defensive star Chase Young, delivered the kind of play that had been missing from his resume before this season.
With Cleveland holding a 31-20 lead, Garrett got around Washington tackle Geron Christian Sr., grabbed quarterback Dwayne Haskins and knocked the ball from his hands before grabbing it. The Browns added a field goal to put it away.
“Big-time players make big-time plays,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said of Garrett, who made a similar momentum-shifting play against Cincinnati a week earlier.
Garrett did his part in a complete, all-around effort by Cleveland, which hasn’t had many of those in recent years. The offense clicked. The defense forced five turnovers and the special teams units, which have had their issues early on, did their jobs.
“In this one, we just put it all together,” Garrett said. “That is real team ball, complementary ball that we played. I am proud of how we all came together.”
Make no mistake, the Browns are going to run the ball and run it some more.
Nick Chubb bulled his way to 108 yards and two touchdowns against Washington, and when he wasn’t in, Kareem Hunt kept up the attack.
The backs have combined for 555 total yards (185 per game) and seven TDs.
Stefanski’s ability to use his two backs — they’ve combined for 496 yards rushing in three games — and pound the ball takes some of the pressure off Mayfield to make big plays and stay away from bigger mistakes.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Cleveland’s banged-up secondary had hoped to be healthier when starting cornerback Greedy Williams returned from a shoulder injury last week. But he’s not ready, and starter Denzel Ward only played one half Sunday because of a groin injury.
Nickel back Kevin Johnson got his first action after suffering a lacerated liver in training camp and is expected to play more in the coming weeks.
Despite a number of injuries, Cleveland’s defensive line rose to the occasion Sunday while showing some unanticipated depth.
Beyond Garrett, who was in Haskins’ face all day, tackle Larry Ogunjobi continues to be a nuisance inside for opposing lines, Sheldon Richardson got another sack and Adrian Clayborn returned from a hip injury and started for injured end Olivier Vernon.
Also, Mayfield snapped an eight-game streak of throwing an interception.
Wide receiver Rashard Higgins appears to be the odd-man out again. Higgins was inactive Sunday as Stefanski chose to dress just four wideouts, clearly a sign he intended to run the ball.
Higgins went from Mayfield’s go-to guy last year to the bench and now he’s having to fight his way back up the depth chart.
Return specialist and wide receiver Jojo Natson suffered a season-ending knee injury against Washington.
Natson, who signed as a free agent in March, was handling kickoff and punt return duties and Stefanski used him on some running plays and as a decoy.
Rookie sixth-round pick Donovan Peoples-Jones will likely replace him, but Stefanski wouldn’t commit to him on Monday.
4 — Odell Beckham Jr. only had four catches, but all of them went for first downs. None was bigger than his catch on third-and-12 late in the third quarter when Cleveland’s offense needed a spark.
Washington is one thing, Dallas is another. The Browns can legitimize themselves with a road win at Dallas next Sunday. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Mayfield and Garrett, two Texas natives and former No. 1 overall picks finally playing to their potential.
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Garrett, meanwhile, had one of his best games as a pro. He had two sacks, including a strip sack that he recovered in the fourth quarter. According to Next Gen Stats, Garrett had seven quarterback pressures and was the cause of three Washington turnovers.