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Browns capitalize on late meltdowns in both halves to steal 39-38 win over Colts in final seconds

Gardner Minshew became the first quarterback in Colts history to score two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns in a single game.

Cleveland Browns v Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts receiver Josh Downs hits the shimmy after scoring a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium — October 22, 2023
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – Two brutal penalties on consecutive plays gifted the Cleveland Browns four chances in the final seconds to ultimately steal a 39-38 road win Sunday over the Indianapolis Colts.

Once Browns backup quarterback P.J. Walker ripped and completed a deep ball to receiver Elijah Moore on third down to march inside Colts territory, the late first-half meltdown was on the precipice to resurface.

With 47 seconds left in the fourth quarter, an illegal contact penalty against Colts cornerback Darrell Baker Jr. negated a potential game-sealing strip-sack by E.J. Speed and fumble recovery by DeForest Buckner. On the next play, Baker was flagged for a controversial pass interference call on a pass lofted beyond the end zone to set up the Browns at the one-yard line. After three incompletions by Walker forced the game to be decided on fourth-&-goal, running back Kareem Hunt barreled over the goal line to score the game-winning touchdown.

Cleveland needed just 57 seconds to ignite the shootout on its third play from scrimmage as Jerome Ford broke loose for a 69-yard rushing touchdown. Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett mauled the Colts with nine tackles, two strip-sacks and hurdled over the Colts field goal unit for a momentum-shifting block. The Browns two-time, First-Team All-Pro was a catalyst for the highest-scoring Week 7 matchup, creating more scoring opportunities than any player on the gridiron.

At midfield, the 6-foot-4, 272 pound edge rusher leaped over the line and swatted away Matt Gay’s 60-yard FG attempt. Denzel Ward recovered the loose ball to give the Browns possession deep inside Colts territory and set up a 44-yard FG made by kicker Dustin Hopkins.

Garrett lined up wide, rushed around Colts left tackle Bernhard Raimann and strip-sacked Minshew, allowing former-Colt Anthony Walker Jr. to emerge from the dogpile with the football inside Colts territory. Pure devastation described the halftime scene after the two-minute warning as Garrett secured his second strip-sack of the first half, allowing Tony Fields II to recover the fumble inside the blue turf to give the Browns the lead before halftime.

Colts rookie receiver Josh Downs had a breakout performance in sync with Minshew from the opening drive. Downs motioned inside and sat around empty space at the sticks, breaking the initial contact after making the catch to convert the first down. Minshew’s cadence fooled Garrett twice for free plays, and the veteran QB launched a deep ball down the sideline to Downs for a 59-yard TD to tie the game. The Colts third-round draft pick led the game with five catches for a season-high 125 receiving yards.

Indianapolis took over midway through the first quarter and Minshew connected with Jonathan Taylor on a wheel route out of the backfield to drive inside Browns’ territory. On third-&-2 inside the red zone, Browns safety Grant Delpit followed Isaiah McKenzie in motion and was caught in no man’s land trying to defend both the flat and a scrambling QB. Minshew faked the handoff to Zack Moss and dashed upfield for a 17-yard rushing touchdown, the longest of his career.

Midway through the second quarter, Minshew rolled right with his receivers bunched inside and Downs faked the crosser to run an inverted corner route, connecting for a 34-yard catch to drive inside Browns territory. Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr. ran a drag route against zone coverage and Minshew delivered a jump ball to convert a third down inside the red zone. Minshew pulled the designed zone read as Garrett collapsed to Moss, then dashed left and cut inside to score his second touchdown from four yards out.

Indianapolis found itself on the wrong side of a critical 10-point swing after the two minute warning. The Colts last two drives of the first half essentially lasted 34 seconds, while Walker orchestrated a seven-play scoring drive to lead the Browns into field goal range and Hopkins drilled a 54-yard FG as time expired to extend the lead to 26-21 at halftime.

Despite setting a new season-high with 456 total offensive yards, Minshew had four turnovers for the second consecutive game, which led to 17 points scored by the Browns. Colts head coach Shane Steichen responded by feeding Taylor on seven consecutive plays to march 50 yards downfield, finishing with a five-yard TD for Taylor’s first score in 11 months.

“It shows what we’re capable of, but, all it comes down to is winning the turnover battle,” Steichen said. “We are 3-0 when we win the turnover battle. When we don’t, obviously, we have lost four. We got to be better taking care of the football.”

Colts linebacker E.J. Speed stuffed Hunt on third down to force Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski to gamble on fourth down and a botched pitch from Walker to Ford gave the Colts possession at midfield. At the end of the third quarter, Minshew fooled Garrett a second time to get him to jump offside for another free play and WR Alec Pierce hauled in a contested catch on a deep ball inside the red zone. Matt Gay drilled a 27-yard FG — his 55th consecutive make from inside 40 yards — to give the Colts a 31-30 lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Browns managed to flip field position once Walker took a shot and was picked off by Colts strong safety Rodney Thomas at the two-yard line. Despite the next drive stalling out at the Colts 40-yard line, Hopkins boomed a 58-yard FG to give the Browns a 33-31 lead with 6:33 left in the game.

The Colts scored two plays later as Minshew faked the handoff, stood in the pocket and delivered a dart across the middle to Pittman, who broke away from Greg Newsome and Martin Emerson Jr. before dashing off to the races for a 75-yard TD. The longest play of the game retook a 38-33 lead with 5:38 left in regulation before the late-game collapse.

Indianapolis (3-4) hosts the New Orleans Saints (3-4) next Sunday.