CLEVELAND - As Sheldon Brown made the pick six that all but secured a Browns victory, the skies had just opened. Rain, often a symbol of rebirth, poured down.
Cleansing rain it was for Browns fans who have spent merciless game days watching stagnant offense and defensive deficiencies culminate in the same result.
With the Browns' 34-24 win over the Bengals Sunday a new streak began - one up in the win column.
The atmosphere after the game reflected it.
“It felt like we won the Super Bowl honestly. Once you get the first one out of the way I feel like it becomes a lot easier and people want to get used to this feeling,” cornerback Joe Haden, returning from suspension, said.
Haden made a difference in his first week back, intercepting Andy Dalton in Bengals territory in the third quarter and fueled an important fire - belief.
“That was a big boost for us,” Richardson said. “Just to know that Joe is back there, it just gave as a team, as a whole, more confidence.”
The rookie back was one of a number of players who got their first taste of victory, turning the locker room from sullen to celebratory.
“It's fun. I feel young, seeing them jump around and celebrate,” veteran kicker Phil Dawson said.
Head coach Pat Shurmur was jovial too, an emotion rarely seen after games from a coach who has won just five in two seasons.
“Oh, I’m happy. I’m holding it back so I don’t appear sensitive,” Shurmur joked.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden pulled out some self-deprecating material in the postgame news conference.
“ I was just thinking to myself you better keep this football tight or else it might be a sinker I never had when I played baseball,” Weeden kidded about his big third down completion to tight end Jordan Cameron in the fourth quarter.
Weeden's longest completion was a 71-yard touchdown connection with Josh Gordon, their third in two weeks and Gordon’s third touchdown in three receptions. Not too bad for a couple rookies who are developing a rapport.
Unlike many of the Browns’ offensive skill players, Montario Hardesty is no rookie. He was there through the losing last season and watched it carry over into 2012. When given his first opportunities of the season, the second-year back excelled.
Entering the game for Richardson, who was nicked up with a rib injury that doesn’t appear serious, Hardesty ran 15 times for 56 yards. Fumbles put him in the doghouse during the preseason but against the Bengals he found a new home - the end zone, scoring his first NFL touchdown in the second quarter.
“Before you become a starter you gotta learn how to be a backup and part of that process is being ready to go at all times,” Shurmur said. “Montario, to his credit, has done that.”
Defensively, Haden’s return re-energized a unit that was torched one week ago by the Giants. They forced four turnovers in the season's second "Battle of Ohio."
Victory did not come without adversity though. Weeden was picked in Bengals territory early on, leading to a long Jermaine Gresham touchdown reception. The offense went through a dry stretch of seven consecutive three-play series consisting of 21 plays for 20 yards. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green shredded the Browns secondary with seven receptions, 135 yards and two touchdowns.
But unlike the first five weeks and last 11 games, the Browns overcame it. Finally, they found the killer instinct in the fourth quarter. Rather than settling for another field goal, Weeden's self-proclaimed "sinker" to Camerion set up a two-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin Watson, giving them a 10-point lead with eight minutes left. One play later, Brown’s pick six extended the margin to 17. Billy Winn’s fumble recovery with just more than two minutes to go halted the Bengals’ last-ditch comeback hopes.
Chants of “Here We Go Brownies” echoed through Browns Stadium in the game’s final minutes, much different than the last home game when Bills fans had overrun the stadium by that time.
Some fans left because of the rain but those that stuck it out were able to relish victory for the first time in nearly a year.
A different mood permeated the bowels of Browns Stadium this time - hope.
One win doesn’t catapult the Browns out of the AFC cellar but it’s a chance for a fresh start. As a fan’s sign hung in the end zone read, “11-5 starts today.”
One down, ten to go.
Sound crazy? At least it’s possible.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Browns second week of organized team activities, or OTAs, came to an end with a two-hour practice for head coach Rob Chudzinski.
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is fighting for the number one job in Berea. But his thoughts and prayers this week have been for his friends and family fighting through the wreckage left by the deadly tornadoes that hit Oklahoma this week.