CLEVELAND: Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson cut to his left to avoid linebacker Jarret Johnson, slipped out of strong safety Atari Bigby’s grasp and then received a slight shove from one of his teammates, right guard Shawn Lauvao, after they bumped into each other.
“I was just trying to keep him up,” Lauvao said. “I was like, ‘Get in the end zone.’ ”
With physical and verbal encouragement from Lauvao, Richardson kept rumbling toward the Dawg Pound.
“Shawn Lauvao was talking to me,” said Richardson, who played through his rib injury and finished with 24 carries for 122 yards. “ ‘Go, go, go.’ I’m telling him thank you while he’s pushing me.”
Richardson ran the rest of the way for his 26-yard touchdown with 4:17 left in the first quarter, cornerback Buster Skrine broke up a fourth-down pass in crunch time and the Browns prevailed 7-6 over the San Diego Chargers on a cold, rainy, windy Sunday afternoon.
The final score reminded rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden of his days in minor-league baseball.
“I haven’t had a game like that since ’06 when I played with the Royals,” Weeden said. “Never been a part of a football team like that. As long as I’m on the good end of it, that’s all that matters.”
Jimmy Haslam felt the same way. The Browns won their first game at home since Haslam was unanimously approved as their new owner, and coach Pat Shurmur presented him with a game ball.
“A win’s a win,” Haslam said. “They hung tough and did a good job. Tough conditions out there.”
Before the game, Shurmur encouraged his players to have fun in the sloppy weather.
“I said, ‘Let’s go for three hours and 15 minutes and just play this thing like a bunch of kids playing in the rain,’ ” Shurmur said. “I think they did that.”
After the game, the players declined Shurmur’s offer to take today off as a reward.
“We’re not there yet,” said middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who had a game-high 14 tackles. “Right now, we’ve got too much work to do.”
It’s true. The Browns (2-6) have plenty of room for improvement, as evidenced by their four dropped passes and nine punts after Richardson scored during their opening possession. But they still held the Chargers (3-4) out of the end zone. Strong safety T.J. Ward provided a key stop during the opening drive of the game when he tackled running back Jackie Battle for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Browns’ 30-yard line.
The Chargers scored their points courtesy of Nick Novak’s 43-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and his 31-yard attempt with 2:33 left in the third quarter. After the Browns ran about five minutes off the clock — thanks in part to Weeden’s 12-yard pass to Richardson in the flat on third-and-6 from the Browns’ 7 line — the Chargers took possession at their own 12 with 2:36 remaining and marched to the Browns’ 44.
On third-and-10, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw deep to wide receiver Dante Rosario. But Rosario stumbled as linebacker Craig Robertson dived for the pass, and it fell incomplete.
“I was fired up just to know I made a play that can potentially help us win the game,” Robertson said.
Then on fourth-and-10, Skrine used his left hand to break up Rivers’ pass to wide receiver Malcom Floyd near the Browns’ 35.
“It came to that last down and you could tell in the guys’ eyes they were ready for it,” Jackson said.
Weeden, who completed 11-of-27 passes for 129 yards, then twice took a knee on the soggy field, and the Browns celebrated. In the locker room, Haslam addressed the team, and hall of famer Jim Brown congratulated Richardson.
The Browns benefited from a couple of big breaks to make it all possible.
Chargers wide receiver Robert Meachem beat the coverage of Ward and was wide open near the Browns’ 23 when he dropped what would have been a touchdown pass with 8:52 left in the third quarter. And with 6:48 left in the fourth quarter, Bigby dropped an interception he could have easily returned for a touchdown after linebacker Melvin Ingram tipped Weeden’s pass on second-and-6 from the Browns’ 7.
In the end, the Browns had the only takeaway of the game — rookie tackle Billy Winn recovered a fumble late in the first quarter after rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson forced it — and endured Mother Nature’s wrath.
“It was a field-position game,” wide receiver and return man Josh Cribbs said. “It’s Cleveland. There’s going to be a lot more games like that before the year’s over. You’ve got to play smart. It’s like chess. The defense came through, the special teams played a heck of a game and the offense made plays when they needed to. We made just enough plays to win the game.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj