CLEVELAND: Count me among the misguided observers who thought the Browns should have rested Trent Richardson against the San Diego Chargers and perhaps even through the Nov. 11 bye.
I can only go by what I hear, and last Sunday at Indianapolis, I heard the rookie running back say, “The injury I have is much bigger than what folks think it is.” He was talking about a rib issue that limited him to 8 yards on eight carries before he was benched in the second half.
Even though the Browns came into the game Sunday with only one victory, I feared another shot to the ribs might end Richardson’s season. I believed the Browns would be better served by letting the third overall pick heal through the bye. I presumed that when he returned, the offense would have jelled and the Browns could string some victories together.
After Richardson rushed for a career-high 122 yards and the game’s only touchdown in a 7-6 victory over the Chargers, I feel like slapping myself and wondering “What was I thinking?”
The only string that seems appropriate is one for my finger.
I’d forgotten that Browns General Manager Tom Heckert said before the season opener, “This kid is a little different cat.” Watching Richardson in the chilling wind and relentless rain at Cleveland Browns Stadium, everyone learned exactly what that meant.
Admittedly upset about being forced to sit last week, Richardson ran like a man possessed. Gone was his tentativeness against the Colts. He was driven to prove himself, driven to carry his team and determined not to come out.
Browns coach Pat Shurmur and concussion-conscious NFL executives might not like what he had to say after Richardson recorded his second 100-yard game. But unless team doctors deem Richardson unavailable, in his mind he’s always available.
“Even when I got a little dinged, I got a little hit, I’m not saying anything to them, I’m going to play this whole game,” Richardson said.
He never considered the possibility of sitting against the Chargers.
“Naw. I said, ‘I’m playing every week,’ ” he said. “I’m a fighter no matter what. I don’t care what type of injury it is, I’m playing.”
His effort and attitude impressed hall of fame running back Jim Brown. When Richardson learned Brown was waiting for him at his locker, he ran out of the training room.
“To have an injury and to run the way he ran today, you have to give him a lot of credit from the standpoint of his heart,” Brown said. “You have to have a lot of courage to do that. The attitude that he brings to this organization is a great attitude.
“He’s interested in his family, he’s interested in his team, and he’s willing to make sacrifices because he’s hurt more than you think he is right now. But he performed today under circumstances where he didn’t have to go out there, and that’s hard to do.”
Even though he said the pain was “way better” than the previous Sunday, Richardson wore a flak jacket.
“I wore it proudly, too,” he said.
He didn’t seem hindered, by the pain or by the jacket, like he did against the Colts. He picked up 49 yards on five carries in the Browns’ 70-yard touchdown drive. He capped it with a 26-yard touchdown run, breaking at least two tackles and eluding another defender. He caught a swing pass for 12 yards on third-and-6 on the final series that enabled the Browns to kill another 3½ minutes. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry against a Chargers’ defense that was allowing an NFL-best 3.5.
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden said he could tell Richardson was ready to play before they left the locker room.
“He was upbeat, he was excited, he was talking,” Weeden said. “Trent doesn’t talk a whole lot. He was getting everybody ready to go. He had a little extra fire and he played like it. He was the spark we needed.”
Weeden wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
“To see somebody who was banged up like that and still running as hard as can be, it was inspiring me to go out and make every block I could for him,” tight end/fullback Alex Smith said. “To see him run so hard and with such passion, it was uplifting to the whole team.”
But Richardson did more than rise above an injury. There had been doubts whether the Browns should have traded up to the third spot to draft him, especially with the rib problem coming after he missed most of training camp following knee surgery. Even on his best days, Richardson hadn’t looked like a game-breaker in the mold of Adrian Peterson.
But the miserable conditions Sunday were a big reason Heckert and the Browns wanted Richardson. Even though Weeden has a strong arm to cut a ball through the wind, there are times when weather will dictate what the Browns can do offensively. There are times when the Browns will need to run out the clock in the fourth quarter, even if the sun is shining.
Born in Pensacola, Fla., and a product of the University of Alabama, Richardson obviously is not prepared for his first Cleveland winter.
“I’m still thawing out right now,” Richardson said. “They told me it’s not even cold yet and I looked at [Chris] Ogbonnaya and said, ‘Are you sure it’s not cold?’ ”
That was the only thing Richardson seemed unsure about. He even seemed to grasp that with his dominating performance on the most dastardly of days, he brought the Browns’ vision to life.
“It’s always in your head, anywhere you go. ‘This is the reason they brought me here. This is the reason they jumped up to pick me,’ ” Richardson said. “I tell the offensive line, ‘This is what we’re here for. This is what we’re going for. This is our dream. Let’s go. Let’s go get it.’ ”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.