CLEVELAND — The Browns served notice on Sunday that there is life after Nick Chubb after all, and that they are still coming for you, hard.
Behind another dominant performance by their defense — including 3.5 sacks by Myles Garrett — and a huge rebound game for the embattled Deshaun Watson — the Browns smothered the Titans, 27-3, victory at Cleveland Browns Stadium to improve to 2-1.
The Browns have now outscored opponents 51-6 at home. The Titans dropped to 1-2 and totaled 97 offensive yards, their lowest output since the team relocated from Houston to Tennessee in 1997.
It was a fantastic showing by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz against his former boss, Mike Vrabel, and a promising performance by the Browns’ $230 million QB.
When Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson watches the film for his visit to the lakefront next week, he’ll be having nightmares about Garrett and him wrecking the game like he did on Sunday.
Garrett drew some guffaws on Friday when he stood at the podium eating a wrap during his press conference, but with performances like these, Garrett can do whatever he wants.
In addition to the 3.5 sacks, Garrett stripped Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill once. And he was adorned with the defense’s big-play chain when he walked into the tunnel after a 10-yard sack at the end of the first half to prevent a Titans field goal and preserve the 13-3 edge.
But Garrett wasn’t the only one who treated the home crowd to a feel-good performance.
Watson, who came under heavy fire for his bad game in Monday night’s 26-22 loss to the Steelers, rebounded in a huge way against a pedestrian Titans pass defense. He threw touchdown passes of 19 yards to Jerome Ford and 43 yards to Amari Cooper to produce the final margin.
Watson went 27 of 33 for 289 yards with 2 TD and 0 INTs for a 123.4 rating. The 289 yards were his most as a Brown.
He got Browns fans on his side once again and believing that this could be the explosive offense they’ve been hearing about.
When he threw the 43-yarder to Cooper with 6:51 left in the game, fans danced and cheered to the song “I Want to Rock and Roll All Night,” and Watson lifted coach Kevin Stefanski off the ground on the sidelines. Watson elevated his play, and his coach along with it. He was so good, he earned a trip to the bench with 4:49 left when rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson took over.
Ford and Kareem Hunt — signed by the Browns on Wednesday to help replace Nick Chubb — combined to get a few necessary tough yards and keep the chains moving.
In his first start in place of Chubb, Ford rushed for a 3-yard TD and caught the 19-yard TD pass. The loss of Chubb has hit the team hard, but Ford is easing the pain.
Hunt, who wore a Chubb No. 24 T-shirt to the game in honor of his best friend, rushed for only 13 yards on 5 carries, but caught back-to-back passes in the second half.
After leading 13-3 at the half, the Browns marched 85 yards in 11 plays, finished off by Ford’s 3-yard run to make it 20-3 with 5:49 left in the third. The drive featured catches of 29 and 12 yards by Donovan Peoples-Jones, and a 10-yard keeper by Watson to set up the field goal.
Garrett punctuated the first half with the crushing 10-yard sack of Tannehill on third down to prevent the Titans from kicking another field goal as time expired in the half.
The sack forced the Titans to waste a beautiful 33-yard strike from Ryan Tannehill to receiver Chris Moore to the Browns’ 11 with 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
The Browns opened the scoring on a 48-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal for a 3-0 lead with 7:49 left in the first quarter. The key play was a 14-yard completion to Elijah Moore after he ran ran around right end and pitched the ball to Peoples-Jones, who pitched it to Watson.
The Browns were forced to settle for a field goal when Watson was upended on third down by cornerback Kristian Fulton.
The Titans, swallowed whole by the Browns defense in the first half, went three and out on their first two drives, and needed a big gift from Moore to get on the scoreboard. Moore was stripped of the ball after a 4-yard catch to start the Titans at the Browns’ 17.
But the defense was having none of that — not in their red zone, thank you.
Garrett knocked Derrick Henry back 3 yards, and then strip-sacked Tannehill, with Henry recovering. Denzel Ward forced a 2-yard loss on a third-down pass, and Nick Folk salvaged the backward drive with a 44-yard field goal that tied it at 3 with 14:14 left in the half.
The Browns went ahead 10-3 with 9:39 left in the half on a 19-yard pass to the wide open Ford at the left side of the end zone. The touchdown capped a crazy drive in which Watson tried to shake off pressure and fire the ball backward to Moore, who recovered it to avoid another turnover.
Watson was booed after the play. He was hit hard on the next play and walked to the sideline with the medical staff, but didn’t miss a snap. Four plays later, he found Ford all alone for his second TD catch in as many weeks.
The Browns thought they had another touchdown on the next drive, but officials ruled that Cooper had stepped out of bounds on the left sideline — when he actually didn’t. The play was blown dead after a 25-yard catch, and not reviewable. Hopkins kicked a 52-yard field goal to make it 13-3 with one minute left in the half.
The defense was so dominant the first half, it held Tennessee to 2 of 12 on third down for the game, six first downs, and the 94 net yards. Henry rushed 11 times for 20 yards on the day.
It was another beatdown on the lakefront that the hometown crowd loved.