CLEVELAND (AP) — Catching a short pass from coach Pat Shurmur, new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam tucked away the game ball, a reward for his first win.
Haslam beamed and everyone in Cleveland's locker room, including legendary running back Jim Brown, basked in the glow of victory.
On a gray, stormy Sunday, this was a bright new beginning. For a change, this was a step forward for the Browns.
Rookie Trent Richardson rushed for a season-high 122 yards and a touchdown, Cleveland's defense kept San Diego out of the end zone and the Browns benefited from a big drop in a 7-6 win, Haslam's first since buying the club for $1.05 billion.
"It feels good," Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said of satisfying Haslam. "You always want to put a smile on his face."
Richardson did just that with a performance that even had the tough-to-please Brown swelling with pride. When the Browns drafted Richardson with the No. 3 overall pick in April's draft, Brown had labeled the former Alabama star as "ordinary."
But after seeing Richardson, who still hasn't fully recovered from a rib cartilage injury, overpower the Chargers, Brown had nothing but compliments for a player who wants to break all his records in Cleveland.
"That's my partner, man," Brown said. "He's done everything I thought he should do. He never took anything I said the wrong way. He's interested in his family. He's interested in this team. And he's willing to make sacrifices because really, he's hurt more than you think he is right now."
With winds gusting to 40 mph making every pass an adventure, the Browns (2-6) turned their offense over to Richardson, who gained just 8 yards on eight carries last week at Indianapolis before Shurmur benched him for being ineffective.
But against a San Diego defense that came in allowing just 71.2 yards per game — second-best in the NFL — Richardson rumbled. He broke several tackles on a 26-yard TD run that opened the scoring and gave the Browns all the points they'd need against the Chargers (3-4), who dropped their third straight game.
"Great running backs break tackles," Brown said. "You do that, you are in control. You keep the ball. The other team is disheartened. That's football."
And that's why the Browns chose Richardson.
Two plays after quarterback Brandon Weeden picked up a first down on a fourth-and-1 sneak to keep Cleveland's opening drive alive, Richardson took a handoff up the middle, broke two tackles and was kept upright by right guard Shawn Lauvao, who wrapped his hands around his teammate, and shoved him toward the goal line.
Richardson said once he was deep in San Diego's secondary there was no stopping him.
"They don't want no problems," said Richardson, who also picked up a critical first down in the fourth quarter with a 12-yard reception.
Weeden finished 11 of 27 for 129 yards, and afterward the former minor league pitcher joked that the score reminded him of some days on the mound.
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