Myles Garrett and the Cleveland defense produced another dominant performance, giving coach Kevin Stefanski a victory over his old team as the Browns beat the Minnesota Vikings 14-7 on Sunday.
Garrett was credited with one-half of Cleveland's two sacks and four hits on Kirk Cousins, Greedy Williams became the first player this season to intercept Minnesota's quarterback and the Browns (3-1) again leaned on their two-pronged rushing attack with predictable success.
Kirk Cousins hit Justin Jefferson for a touchdown pass to cap a commanding opening drive by the Vikings (1-3), who took possession 11 more times without scoring or even trying a field goal. The furthest they came was the 26-yard line, where they had one final play to tie the game. Cousins threw on the run into the end zone, where the ball fell incomplete.
Nick Chubb had 21 carries for 100 yards, Kareem Hunt ran 14 times for 69 yards and a touchdown and Chase McLaughlin made two critical field goals to help offset a rocky game for Baker Mayfield.
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Mayfield went for 15 for 33 for 155 yards. Cousins was 20 for 38 for 203 yards.
The return of Dalvin Cook from a one-game absence to an ankle injury didn't make a difference for the Vikings, who took it easy on their star running back and gave Alexander Mattison plenty of use. Cousins didn't connect on enough of the quick throws the Vikings designed to minimize the pressure from Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley, whose third-and-3 sack ended Minnesota's first drive of the second half.
Just when the Vikings appeared to find their breakthrough, a 37-yard completion to Jefferson on third-and-12 from their own 27 midway through the third quarter, tight end Tyler Conklin was called for holding in a daunting one-on-one blocking matchup against Garrett.
In his first game at Minnesota with the visiting team, Stefanski brought a bold strategy in an intriguing chess match with his former boss, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.
Stefanski kept the offense on the field on fourth down twice in the first half, as has been his tendency. Mayfield was sacked by Everson Griffen for an 11-yard loss on fourth-and-4 from the 6, stopping Cleveland's first drive cold.
Mayfield's fourth-and-goal pass from the 2 with 1:26 left before halftime was off target, but linebacker Eric Kendricks was called for holding to give the Browns a fresh set of downs. Finally, on the sixth straight snap from inside the 3-yard line, Hunt charged across the goal line. That drive began at the Cleveland 36 after Zimmer went for it on fourth-and-6, and Cousins failed to connect with Adam Thielen.
Then the game changed in a most unusual way. Sheldon Richardson, the former Browns defensive tackle, called a timeout the Vikings didn't have during a disheveled moment prior to the extra point attempt. The Browns went for 2 from the 1 and took the baseball-like 8-7 lead on a pass from Mayfield to fullback Andy Janovich.
Zimmer said after the game that he believes the Vikings' record doesn't reflect the talent of the team.
"Like I told the team — I've been doing this 27 years. I know good teams and I know bad teams. And I know that this team has a chance to be pretty darn good. We may not look like it right now because we're 1 and 3. But like Kevin (Stefanski) said to me before the game, ‘You've got a really good football team here.’ And they do, too. They just were a little bit better than us today."
The Vikings play their third straight home game next Sunday, against the winless Detroit Lions.