The Browns won an ugly game last Sunday, outlasting the Chargers in a rain-soaked 7-6 slugfest. QB Brandon Weeden wasn’t spectacular, but he didn’t need to be anything more than efficient and careful with the football (which he was). The defense also stepped up to the challenge, holding the Chargers to only 265 yards of total offense.
But for the first time this season, rookie RB Trent Richardson put the team on his back and led it to victory. When the Browns selected him third overall in April’s draft, it was done with games like Sunday’s in mind.
Richardson’s stat line looked like this: 24 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown to go along with one catch for 12 yards. With 134 total yards, it was one of his best days as a pro.
This performance came only a few days after speculation led people to wonder if Richardson’s rib injury (sustained against the Bengals on Oct. 14) would force the Browns to shut him down through the Week 10 bye. While he continues to deal with the lingering effects of the injury, he showed he was still capable of dominating one of the league’s top rush defenses.
Before Sunday’s performance, there was somewhat of a nervous anticipation regarding Richardson. It’s not that nobody thought he could do it — there have certainly been glimpses of his immense talent this season — but most people were simply waiting to actually see it. After all, the Browns still rank near the bottom of the league in rushing yards per game — 29th to be exact.
That, of course, is also an indictment of constantly playing from behind, but Richardson’s presence was supposed to move the Browns away from the usual rushing offense basement dwellers.
After getting more than 20 carries for the first time this season, it would appear that Richardson will actually be able to do that. As the Browns’ offense continues to improve, so too will Richardson’s ability to exceed those expecations.
So yes, Sunday’s win against the Chargers was, at times, a painful experience. With each consecutive punt, the Browns seemed destined to replicate so many games from the past; that is, to hold a precariously thin lead late, only to give it up on some kind of game-winning drive.
But as the Browns did just enough overall — while getting a little help from the Chargers (such as WR Robert Meachem’s big-time drop) — with Richardson bearing the responsibility of being the player who had to make that “one big play,” it was evident that the future is bright in Cleveland.
More than anything, Richardson is a key component in a young Browns team that is learning to put itself in a position to win on a weekly basis. As those efforts turn to victories, it will often result from the efforts of a running back who entered Cleveland with lofty expectations and a degree of skepticism due to an unusual draft position.
But in the interest of finally securing a playmaker — something truly not seen in Cleveland since 1999 — the Browns simply could not have drafted Richardson fast enough.
For a game as gloomy as the one played last Sunday, the Browns sure turned it into a bright sign of things to come.