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High-scoring victory changes perceptions

CLEVELAND — The chant seemed to come out of nowhere and quickly grew louder during a replay review to see if the Browns had indeed scored on a gorgeous, play-action touchdown pass.

“O-B-J, O-B-J,” yelled many of the 6,000 fans, acknowledging Odell Beckham Jr.’s 43-yard scoring reception from Baker Mayfield.

Just days ago there were cries in Cleveland to trade the lightning-rod star receiver.

But Beckham bounced back from a bad opener, Mayfield played like he did as a rookie quarterback and the Browns showed off their offensive pyrotechnics and potential on Thursday night in a 35-30 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, who had better build a wall around rookie QB Joe Burrow if they’re going to ask him to throw 60 passes per game.

Beckham’s numbers weren’t spectacular — four catches, 74 yards — but the speedster occupied two Bengals defenders at times, opening up space for Cleveland’s other playmakers. His second-longest TD catch since coming to Cleveland made it 14-3 in the second quarter.

The Browns were balanced, running for 215 yards, passing for 219. They punted just once.

“We could have ran all over them all night if we wanted, which we did,” boasted Browns fullback Andy Janovich. “But we could have had 300 or 400 yards if we wanted.”

It was a much-needed performance for the team following a Week 1 debacle in coach Kevin Stefanski’s first NFL game.

Mayfield considered it a stepping stone.

“It builds an enormous amount of confidence with us not having the extended week to prepare,” said Mayfield, who went 16 of 23 with two TDs and one interception. “I think that is going to build confidence for us, and us playing complementary football with the defense, that is the scary part is if we start clicking and keep getting better, it is going to be a fun ride.”

And Beckham figures to be on it.

Despite the constant trade rumors that always seem to encircle Beckham, the Browns appear committed to the three-time Pro Bowler, who has expressed his comfort at being settled down in Cleveland — along with a determination to win.

Of course that all could change with one bad loss, one sideline flare-up or a trade offer the Browns can’t refuse. But the win over the Bengals has calmed the waters in Cleveland, where there always seems to be waves.

Sometimes giant ones.

WHAT’S WORKING

Cleveland’s running game could be the envy of pro football. Nick Chubb ran for 124 yards and two scores, Kareem Hunt added 86 on 10 carries and the Browns offensive line — despite playing without starting right tackle Jack Conklin — dominated.

On Chubb’s 11-yard TD run, he shrugged off the first contact at the 7-yard line and bulldozed his way through several Bengals and into the end zone. Hunt ripped off a 33-yarder in the fourth.

“I think they are the two best in the NFL,” Janovich said. “You see it, one cut and they are gone. They are just gashing people.”

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Browns have given up 68 points in two games, and that’s not going to cut it no matter how good Cleveland’s offense might be.

Injuries have decimated the linebacking group and secondary, but help could be on the way. Stefanski said it’s “possible” starting cornerback Greedy Williams (shoulder), linebackers Mack Wilson (knee) and Jacob Phillips (knee) could be back next week.

Until then, Cleveland needs to get stops and get off the field. The Bengals went 5 for 5 on fourth down.

STOCK UP

Mayfield was in command from the outset, and has temporarily muted concerns his regression from last season will continue.

Stefanski’s strategy to get Mayfield outside the pocket was effective, and the QB was on point except for a late force over the middle that was intercepted.

“Extremely accurate, whether from the pocket or on the move,” Stefanski said in evaluating Mayfield. “He made really good decisions with the ball, albeit that one pick at the end, which I know he is not happy about. Really played fast. Led the team. He did a nice job.”

STOCK DOWN

Special teams were better, but can still improve as the Browns were gashed twice for long kickoff returns.

The Bengals returned the opening kick 42 yards and Cleveland’s coverage team later gave up a 45-yard return following Mayfield’s TD pass to Beckham.

INJURED

Defensive end Adrian Clayborn (hip) was the only notable injury from Thursday’s game. That’s a major plus for the Browns, who were ravaged by injures in training camp and can use the extra days before their next game to get healthy.

That’s exactly what starting center JC Tretter intends to do after testing his surgically repaired right knee by playing two games in five days.

KEY NUMBERS

38 years, 132 days — Stefanski became the youngest coach in Browns history to get his first win. Bill Belichick, who now has 274 career victories, got No. 1 with Cleveland in 1991 at 39 years, 145 days.

NEXT STEPS

Rest. The quick turnaround from Sunday to Thursday was stressful and intensified by the team’s overall ineptitude in Week 1. Beating the Bengals was a must. The Browns now have a chance to get healthy before hosting the Washington Football Team on Sept. 27.

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