CLEVELAND - Cleveland Browns fans had seen the story before: missed opportunities followed by a late score and crushing defeat.
The difference, however, was that the Browns flipped the script this time around and found a way to win. The Browns came from behind with a late fourth quarter drive to beat the Dolphins 17-16, improving to 2-1 for the first time since 2002.
"Those are the types of games we need to start winning," wide receiver Josh Cribbs said. "And we finally went out there and got it done today."
It seemed like the Browns had every opportunity to lose the game, and for fans who have watched the team struggle for years, the ending looked all but certain.
For three and a half quarters, the Browns offense struggled mightily. Quarterback Colt McCoy said they were "out of sync," and that allowed the Dolphins to control most of the game and then take a 16-10 lead with 3:26 left in the game.
But when the team needed him most, McCoy was ready.
McCoy responded with the kind of characteristic fourth quarter drive this team has needed from a starting quarterback. He drove the team 80 yards in 2 minutes 40 seconds and made easily his pass of the day to hit wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in the corner of the end zone, giving the Browns the lead and making all of the previous miscues an afterthought.
"As ugly as it was, it's a huge win for us," McCoy said. "We'll definitely gain some confidence from this."
McCoy saved his best for last, and was perfect on the final drive. He spread the ball around to six players, completed 9 of 15 passes and then tossed a perfect pass to Massoquoi, who made an acrobatic catch in the end zone.
McCoy--the second year player the Browns are hoping can become the franchise quarterback--was the unquestioned leader on the field.
The game-winning drive showed that he has the kind of toughness and leadership ability the team has needed in a quarterback.
"It is way too early to say that I am a hero by all means," McCoy said. "I certainly would be the first to tell you that I've got a ton of work to do to lead this football team."
Even after scoring the late touchdown, the Browns nearly handed the game back to the Dolphins, thanks to 30 yards in penalties, giving Miami starting field position at the Browns 48 yard line needing only a field goal to win.
As the Browns defense took the field, the "here we go again" feeling hit the 66,000 in attendance at the stadium. The defense, just like it had done all day long, held strong and safety Mike Adams came up with an interception.
"We could not give up an inch," cornerback Joe Haden said. "Everybody just gutted up and did their job."
After the interception, McCoy and the offense came onto the field for one more play--this time, the victory formation.
The victory gave the Browns a winning record for the first time in four seasons, and keeps them tied with Pittsburgh and Baltimore atop the AFC North standings.
It was a game where the winning team made plenty of mistakes—and will have a host of issues to correct for future weeks—but in the NFL, the final score is the only line that truly matters.
"We all saw it," head coach Pat Shurmur said. "It wasn't pretty."
But it was a win, and for a team that has struggled to collect them, that's all that matters.