CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns are a team that scored 42 points and lost, and then scored 12 and won.
If that sounds imperfect, it’s because it is.
But for these Cleveland Browns, any win is a good win, and any close win is a better win. A team trying to change its culture, belief system and misery index needed it -- and maybe can use a 12-9 overtime victory to propel it forward.
"It is good to see the other side of it," said rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, who threw for 342 yards in his second NFL start, the second-highest passing yardage in a game by a rookie in Browns history.
There are so many examples of how the suffering has festered.
Six losses in 2017 were decided by six points or less. This season, there have been two losses by three points and a tie that could have been a win. The Browns saw a potential game-winning kick blocked against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and then two extra points and two field goals botched at the New Orleans Saints. A week ago, the Browns were bitterly angry about officials’ calls that they felt cost them a chance at a win.
There were many chances to fold Sunday at home against the Baltimore Ravens, and there was a non-call by officials that went against them as wideout Jarvis Landry was knocked down as he tried to run a route in overtime.
The Browns saw a botched reverse go backward, forcing them to start their game-winning drive at the 5-yard-line.
They saw their No. 2 receiver, Rashard Higgins, a guy who had been having a productive game, leave with a knee injury.
But they turned a second-and-21 into a big play on a third down by rarely used Derrick Willies. And they watched as a kicker who had missed an extra point and 55-yard field goal hit a low knuckleball to win a game.
Had the Browns lost or tied, there would have been more teeth-gnashing and questions. But when they somehow pulled out the win, the outlook changed. For this team, 2-2-1 is a quantum leap from 1-3-1.
Much of it starts with Mayfield, who continues to impress not only teammates but his peers. He had several good throws against one of the league’s top defenses, and when Rod Streater lost 11 yards on a reverse with just more than two minutes left to play, Mayfield didn’t flinch. On second down, he scrambled for 13 yards. On third-and-8, he avoided a rush and found Willies, who had broken open across the field.
"He has that ‘it’ factor to him," Ravens safety Tony Jefferson said. "We were talking a little trash on the field. You have to respect a guy like that, especially a rookie who’s coming into a defense like ours."
Browns running back Carlos Hyde agreed.
"Baker is a different breed," Hyde said. "He is not like most other quarterbacks, and he is a big-time competitor. He is just nonstop and always comes back out slinging the ball."
But this win was more than Mayfield.
Cleveland cornerback Denzel Ward had an outstanding game, including an interception at the goal line (on a pass tipped by end Emmanuel Ogbah), a blocked field goal and three passes defensed. Myles Garrett had another half a sack, giving him five in five games. Hyde rand for 63 more yards and is on pace for 1,100 rushing yards. The defense has forced 15 turnovers in five games. And the Ravens failed to get in the end zone after starting the game averaging 30.8 points.
The Browns have not arrived after this win; there is much room to grow. But there are signs pointing to reasons to believe.
Losing, though, generates negativity. At some point, these Browns had to win a close game to feel good about themselves and what they are doing.
Something has to propel the Browns toward what for so long seemed like an unreachable world of success.
If it’s a three-point victory that by Mayfield’s admission wasn’t pretty, so be it. The Browns will take it.