Created on Monday, 10 December 2012 Written by TOM WITHERS,AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — With just minutes left in a rare blowout win, new owner Jimmy Haslam leaned over the railing of his open-air suite and pumped his fist in celebration.
Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson (33) leaps over the line during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Down below, Cleveland fans jumped and screamed in delight.
Their team is rolling.
Yep, the Browns, masters of disaster for years, are winning.
On a day when an attempt to block a punt turned into a record return for a touchdown, the Browns showed some offensive creativity and did just about everything right in a 30-7 rout of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, extending Cleveland's longest winning streak since 2009 to three games.
Travis Benjamin's electrifying 93-yard TD return in the second quarter gave the Browns (5-8) momentum they never gave back and Cleveland posted its most lopsided win since 2003.
"It's big for us," said tight end Ben Watson, who had three receptions for 43 yards and prevented the Chiefs from intercepting one of quarterback Brandon Weeden's passes. "We've had a lot of very close games that we haven't won and had some heartbreakers. So it's good to put it all together as a total team — offense, defense and special teams — and to come out with a win."
Benjamin's game-changer helped the Browns continue their resurgence under second-year coach Pat Shurmur, who is beginning to build a strong case to keep his job. With three games left, the Browns have surpassed their win total from last season.
"It's all kind of coming together," said 14-year veteran kicker Phil Dawson, who made three field goals, including the 300th of his career. "We're just doing all the little things right now. Guys are hungry to come back to work every day. There's some energy around here that I haven't felt. This is all good."
Rookie running back Trent Richardson had two 1-yard TD runs for the young-and-improved Browns, who seem to be getting better every week. They've been competitive since the opener, but they're beginning to win close games, a sure sign of maturity and a major plus for Shurmur, whose team is 3-1 since the bye with the only loss in overtime at Dallas.
"These guys in that locker room have continued to buy in," Weeden said. "Early in the year we faced a lot of adversity and we weren't winning games, but we've stayed true to what we do. It's paid off. We've found a way to win these last three weeks."
Jamaal Charles ran for 165 yards, breaking off an 80-yard TD run on the game's first play for the Chiefs (2-11), playing their first road game following linebacker Jovan Belcher's suicide. The 25-year-old killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, at their home before driving to the team's practice facility on Dec. 1 and shooting himself.
This week, the Chiefs adjusted their practice schedule to attend a memorial service for Belcher. On Saturday, Charles and several other teammates attended a service for Perkins in Austin, Texas. The shocking tragedy has been especially troubling for Charles, whose wife was Perkins' first cousin.
Charles has not spoken to the media since the deaths. He left the stadium following the game wearing a heart-shaped badge bearing Perkins' initials.
A week ago, the Chiefs, united by coach Romeo Crennel, pulled together and won at home over Carolina, less than one day after Belcher's stunning act. The emotions of the past few days seemed to take their toll and contribute to an uneven performance against the Browns.
"It's something that I think we'll carry with us for the rest of the season," quarterback Brady Quinn said. "But it's not a distraction for us. We're doing our best to move forward. Football, and the fact that these guys love to play the game, is a great outlet, or a great way to get our minds off of it."
Richardson's second TD early in the fourth quarter gave the Browns a 27-7 lead and finally put away the Chiefs (2-11),
Charles returned after sustaining a rib injury knocked him out one series. Kansas City, though, lost leading receiver Dwayne Bowe, who injured his ribs in the first half and didn't come back.
Without Bowe, Quinn was without his top target and finished 11 of 22 for 159 yards and one interception.
Benjamin's 93-yard punt return — the longest in team history — gave the Browns a 10-7 lead and seemed to demoralize the Chiefs.
Just before the snap, Benjamin lined up to block Kansas City's gunner before sprinting 50 yards and switching spots with Josh Cribbs, who rushed up the middle. Benjamin fielded the kick inside his 10, cut sharply left, picked up a few key blocks and outran the rest of Kansas City's coverage unit.
The Browns worked on the play, called "Banzai" in practice and sprung it on the Chiefs.
"We schemed it up perfect," Cribbs said. "We tried to get a punt block up the middle, but a touchdown is always better."
The return by the speedy Benjamin was 1 yard longer than Eric Metcalf's TD at Cincinnati on Sept. 4, 1994.
"It was a huge lift," Shurmur said. "It puts us ahead in a game. We just took an 80-yard punch for a touchdown. That was a punch in the gut. To get a play like that to put you back on top, is something that you always hope for in a game."
There's no denying Shurmur and his staff have the Browns headed in the right direction, but there's also no guarantee Haslam will allow them to stay next season.
For Dawson, who has seen it all during his time with Cleveland, the winning streak is a nice change of pace.
"I can get used to this," he said."
NOTES: With nine rushing TDs, Richardson tied Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1957) for the team rookie record. ... His 10 overall TDs tie him with Brown and Metcalf (1989) for the most in a season. ... Crennel did not have an update on Bowe, who had two catches for 70 yards before getting hurt. ... Weeden joined Derek Anderson (2007) and Tim Couch (2001) as the only Browns QBs with 3,000 passing yards since '99. ... Chiefs LB Tamba Hali had two of KC's three sacks. ... The Browns host Washington next week in their final home game.