CLEVELAND — Browns owner Jimmy Haslam stood just inside the Browns' tunnel high-fiving players as they ran into the locker room. Once inside, Pat Shurmur got so caught up in the celebrating that he was tardy for his postgame presser.
"Sorry I'm a little bit late," he said. "There's a lot of fun stuff in there for a change."
There was fun stuff in the locker room and fun stuff out on the field — including a little Wildcat and a crafty 93-yard punt return for a touchdown by Travis Benjamin — en route to a 30-7 rout of Brady Quinn and his 2-11 Chiefs. It was the Browns' largest margin of victory since a 44-6 blowout of the Cardinals in 2003.
The win marked three straight for the Browns for the first time since 2009, when they closed out the year with four straight to save Eric Mangini's job. They also moved to 5-8 after starting 0-5 and have won four of their last five at home to go 4-3 on the lakefront. They also staved off elimination from playoff talk for another week.
"We're in a tough spot, but we still have a chance," said quarterback Brandon Weeden. "Crazy things have happened, and guys are still hungry."
Whether or not this run will have the same job-saving impact on Haslam and CEO Joe Banner that Mangini's did on Mike Holmgren remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: this young, scrappy team is determined not to let them blow this thing up.
"We're putting something together here, and it's going to be beautiful," said Trent Richardson, whose two rushing touchdowns ties him with Jim Brown for the rookie record of nine. "There's a lot of emotion and excitement, and you can't really explain it."
With rumors swirling like gusts off the lake that Shurmur and Tom Heckert will be gone after the season, and the Boston Globe reporting that Nick Saban, Chip Kelly, and Josh McDaniels are on the radar, Shurmur pulled out all the stops to surpass his victory total from last season.
"I knew two years ago when I got here there were going to be some tough days," he said. "Fortunately, in the last few weeks we found a way to have some good stuff happen."
At the outset, it looked as if this might be a disaster. Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (18 carries for 165 yards) found a seam in the Browns' defense and raced 80 yards for a TD on the first play of the game.
But the defense stiffened and shut out the Chiefs the rest of the way. They limited Brady Quinn to 10 completions, sacked him five times, and picked him off once — by rookie Tashaun Gipson. They limited Peyton Hillis to 11 yards on five carries after Charles suffered a rib injury in the first quarter.
"They came out and hit us in the mouth on that first play, and we were like, 'OK, this is going to be a battle,’" said T.J. Ward. "And we played the rest of the game like we were in a dogfight."
Quinn completed passes of 23 and 47 yards to receiver Dwayne Bowe on the next drive, but the Chiefs missed a 27-yard chip shot field goal. That and the loss of Bowe to a rib injury on the next play took the wind out of their sails.
"The game was totally different after that," said Kansas City defensive lineman Shaun Smith, a former Brown.
Phil Dawson kicked his 300th career field goal to make it 7-3, and speedster Benjamin peeled off the 93-yard punt return — longest in Browns history — at the top of the second quarter to put the Browns up 10-7. It proved to be the game-winner.
"They were yelling something crazy on the sideline," said Weeden. "All the sudden, they pulled something out of the hat and Travis breaks one. That was the biggest play of the game."
The return came after Benjamin and Josh Cribbs traded places, with Cribbs bolting up to the line of scrimmage to try to block the punt and Benjamin dropping back to return it. The switch foiled the Chiefs, and they let Benjamin sprint up the left side, with only the punter ultimately standing in his way. Cribbs took care of that.
"The punter saw me about to come, and he opened the gate like, 'I ain't got nothing to do with that,'" Cribbs said.