Rookie Travis Benjamin's electrifying 93-yard punt return touchdown early in the second quarter swung momentum in Cleveland's favor and the Browns won their third straight, 30-7 over the emotionally drained Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
Benjamin's game-changer helped the Browns (5-8) continue their resurgence under second-year coach Pat Shurmur, whose future in Cleveland remains uncertain. With three games left, the Browns, who opened this season 0-5, have surpassed their win total from last season and have their longest winning streak since 2009.
"It's all kind of coming together," said 14-year veteran kicker Phil Dawson, who booted three field goals. "We're just doing all the little things right now. Guys are hungry to come back to work every day. There's some energy around here that I haven't felt. This is all good."
Rookie running back Trent Richardson had two 1-yard TD runs for the young-and-improved Browns, whose 23-point margin of victory was their largest since 2003 a significant accomplishment for a franchise with 11 double-digit loss seasons since 1999.
"It's been a long year," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "At first, it was rocky. We were in a lot of close ballgames and we weren't able to finish, and now we're starting to create something. We had some young guys at the beginning of the season that were a little immature, and they've grown up a little bit.
"We have something going right now."
Jamaal Charles ran for 165 yards, breaking off an 80-yard TD run on the game's first play for Kansas City, playing its road game following linebacker Jovan Belcher's suicide. The 25-year-old killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, at their home before driving to the team's practice facility on Dec. 1 and shooting himself.
Richardson's second TD early in the fourth quarter gave the Browns a 27-7 lead and finally put away the Chiefs (2-11), who a week ago were able to pull together and win at home over Carolina, less than one day after Belcher's unspeakable act.
Coach Romeo Crennel rallied his team through the difficult ordeal, but it may have been too much to expect the Chiefs to repeat last week's performance. Their practice schedule was adjusted during the week to attend a service for Belcher, and the days of reflection and grief may have taken a toll.
"It is going to be with some guys the rest of their lives," quarterback Brady Quinn said. "But it was not a distraction because we live to play football. We just didn't play an all-around football game like we did last week."
Charles returned after sustaining a rib injury knocked him out one series. Kansas City, though, lost leading receiver Dwayne Bowe, who injured his ribs in the first half and didn't come back.
Without Bowe, Quinn was without his top target. Quinn, who had his finest game as a pro last week, finished 11 of 22 for 159 yards and one interception.
Dawson kicked field goals of 23, 24 and 34 yards for the Browns, 3-1 since the bye with the loss at Dallas in overtime. Dawson's first kick made him the 25th player in NFL history to make 300 field goals.
Benjamin's 93-yard punt return the longest in team history gave the Browns a 10-7 lead.
Just before the snap, Benjamin lined up to block Kansas City's gunner before sprinting 50 yards and switching spots with Josh Cribbs, who rushed up the middle. Benjamin fielded the kick inside his 10, cut sharply left, picked up a few key blocks and outran the rest of Kansas City's coverage unit.
The Browns worked on the play in practice and sprung it on the Chiefs.
"Biggest play of the game," quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "They were yelling something crazy on the sideline. I didn't know what they were doing, and all of a sudden they pulled something out their hat and Travis breaks one. That got us the lead and we were able to keep it."
The return by the speedy Benjamin, a fourth-round pick from Miami, was one yard longer than Eric Metcalf's TD at Cincinnati on Sept. 4, 1994.
Now with Benjamin joining Richardson, Weeden and wide receiver Josh Gordon as playmakers, the Browns have a solid offensive foundation for the future. On defense, several rookies, including linemen Billy Winn and John Hughes have contributed all season.
Shurmur and his staff have the Browns headed in the right direction, but there's no guarantee new owner Jimmy Haslam will allow them to stay next season.
"Guys are excited," Weeden said. "Guys are still hungry. We've got a close-knit group guys. We don't have any knuckleheads."
The Browns drove 60 yards after the second-half kickoff with Richardson plowing in for his eighth rushing TD. He later got his ninth score to tie the team rookie record set by Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1957).
NOTES: Cleveland hadn't beaten a team this badly since a 44-6 win at Phoenix on Nov. 16, 2003. ... Gordon had 8 catches for 86 yards. ... Crennel did not have an update on Bowe, who had two catches for 70 yards before getting hurt. ... Weeden passed for 217 yards and joined Derek Anderson (2007) and Tim Couch (2001) as the only Browns QBs with 3,000 passing yards since '99. ... Weeden's five wins are the most by a Browns rookie starter. Bernie Kosar won four in 1985.
Kansas City 7, Cleveland 30
Kansas City 7 0 0 0 7
Cleveland 3 7 10 10 30
KC • Charles 80 run (Succop kick), 14:48.
Cle • FG Dawson 23, 3:53.
Cle • Benjamin 93 punt return (Dawson kick), 14:40.
Cle • Richardson 1 run (Dawson kick), 12:28.
Cle • FG Dawson 24, 8:42.
Cle • Richardson 1 run (Dawson kick), 14:17.
Cle • FG Dawson 34, 9:04.
Attendance • 62,422.
First downs 12 20
Total Net Yards 310 352
Rushes-yards 26-180 35-154
Passing 130 198
Punt Returns 3-5 4-144
Kickoff Returns 3-51 1-15
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 1-23
Comp-Att-Int 10-21-1 17-30-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 5-29 3-19
Punts 7-48.0 5-40.8
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-0
Penalties-yards 5-35 7-55
Time of Possession 26:31 33:29
Rushing • Kansas City, Charles 18-165, Hillis 5-11, Quinn 1-4, Draughn 1-0, McCluster 1-0. Cleveland, Hardesty 10-52, Richardson 18-42, Little 1-17, Cribbs 2-15, Benjamin 1-15, Weeden 1-15, McCoy 2-(minus 2).
Passing • Kansas City, Quinn 10-21-1-159. Cleveland, Weeden 17-30-0-217.
Receiving • Kansas City, Copper 3-32, Bowe 2-70, Newsome 1-25, Moeaki 1-10, Draughn 1-8, McCluster 1-8, Hillis 1-6. Cleveland, Gordon 8-86, Little 4-69, Watson 3-43, J.Cameron 1-10, Richardson 1-9.
Missed Field Goals • Kansas City, Succop 27 (WL).