INDIANAPOLIS (AP)Kareem Hunt and Myles Garrett flexed their muscles, P.J. Walker relied on true grit in place of Deshaun Watston and Dustin Hopkins’ strong leg kept the Cleveland Browns kicking on all cylinders.
To coach Kevin Stefanski, it was a perfect combination.
Walker replaced injured quarterback Watson in the first quarter and directed a second straight fourth-quarter comeback, relying on Hunt’s second score of the day with 15 seconds left to give Cleveland a 39-38 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
“We needed moxie, we needed grit, and we needed toughness at the end,” Stefanski said. “We got all of that. We poured everything we had into this game, and we needed every bit of it.”
While the Browns (4-2) came up short on style points, they persevered in this one despite seeing the league’s stingiest scoring defense sometimes look vulnerable, aided by questionable penalties against the Colts on back-to-back plays in the final 40 seconds.
The first, an illegal contact call, erased what would have been a game-sealing fumble recovery. The second, a pass interference call, gave Cleveland four chances from the 1-yard line. Hunt barely cracked the goal line on fourth down.
This one certainly didn’t follow Stefanski’s script.
Watson made his first start since Sept. 24, then departed in the first quarter after taking a big hit that left him sprawled on the turf for several minutes. He was evaluated for a head injury and later was cleared to return but did not because Stefanski wanted to protect his franchise quarterback.
“That’s all it was,” Stefanski said. “It’s my job to make those tough decisions.”
The Colts (3-4) lost their second straight as Gardner Minshew committed four more turnovers – three of which Cleveland turned into scores with the last one sealing the victory. He now has seven turnovers in his two starts since rookie Anthony Richardson injured his right shoulder.
But in perhaps the wildest game of Week 7, Minshew still had the Colts on the precipice of victory thanks to two TD runs – matching his previous career total – and touchdown passes of 59 yards to Josh Downs and 75 yards to Michael Pittman Jr., whose score gave the Colts a 38-33 lead with 5:38 left.
They just made too many mistakes to close it out.
“There was a lot of good, I feel, on the offensive side and then once again just really turnovers,” Minshew said. “I think we need to do a better job of taking care of the ball and playing complementary football.”
Garrett made sure they couldn’t.
He dominated the first half with two strip-sacks and leapt over the long snapper to block a 60-yard field goal – with all three plays leading to Browns points. He finished with nine tackles and Za’Darius Smith added a third strip-sack that Cleveland recovered with 2 seconds left.
“It’s up there,” Garrett said when asked to evaluate his performance. “But who says the next one can’t be even better? It really was just another day at the office.”
Hopkins probably felt the same way after making two 54-yard field goals and a 58-yarder, extending his streak of consecutive games with at least one 50-yarder to five, an NFL record.
It was just enough for the Browns.
“We knew we had time, and we knew we needed points,” Walker said. “Guys made plays when it mattered. I was starting to see some things we could take advantage of. I just needed to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands.”
Jerome Ford had a 69-yard TD run ont the third play of the game and finsihed with 11 carries for 74 yards while Walker was 15 of 32 with 178 yards and one interception.
Minshew was 15 of 23 for 305 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Jonathan Taylor had 18 carries for 75 yards and his first score of the season, and Downs had five receptions for 125 yards.
Browns: In addition to Watson, DE Alex Wright and CB Denzel Ward both were evaluated for head injuries and Ford left in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. Ward cleared the protocol. Watson is expected to have an MRI on his injured right shoulder Monday.
Colts: Rookie CB JuJu Brents left with a quad injury in the first half and did not return. Receiver Isaiah McKenzie was evaluated for a concussion in the second half.
Cleveland defense entered the game ranked among the league’s top five in most of the major defensive categories. But they came into the game with just four takeaways – a number they doubled Sunday despite allowing a season worst 456 total yards.
Browns: Head to Seattle next Sunday.
Colts: Play their fourth home game in five weeks next Sunday against New Orleans.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl