CLEVELAND — Trent Richardson broke one tackle, then another and was gone.
The San Diego Chargers couldn’t stop the rookie running back who might be the one to make Cleveland relevant once more. On a day when every yard counted, Richardson delivered a dominating performance that even made Hall of Famer Jim Brown swell with pride.
“Great running backs break tackles,” Brown said following Cleveland’s 7-6 win Sunday. “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.
Cleveland’s rookie running back, still playing with a rib injury, rushed for 122 yards in nasty weather and scored the game’s only touchdown on a 26-yard run to lead Browns (2-6) to their second straight win at home.
Following the game, Brown, who called Richardson an “ordinary” back on the day Cleveland selected the Alabama star No. 3 overall in April’s draft, was waiting at the young star’s locker.
Richardson has made even Brown a believer.
“That’s my partner,” Brown said. “I’m so happy he didn’t take anything I said the wrong way. He’s a player. He’s making sacrifices for his team. He’s hurting now more than you think and he’s out there making plays.”
Richardson, pulled last week at Indianapolis when he was ineffective because of a rib cartilage injury, carried 24 times as the Browns gave new owner Jimmy Haslam his first win since taking over the franchise. Haslam was presented with a game ball by coach Pat Shurmur in Cleveland’s jubilant locker room.
“It feels good,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said of rewarding Haslam, who shelled out $1.05 million for the Browns. “You always want to put a smile on his face.”
Richardson’s TD to cap Cleveland’s first drive was like many they used to get from the incomparable Brown, who either outran or carried defenders to the end zone. It was No. 32 who helped make the Browns one of the league’s most storied teams, and Cleveland has a new runner who may one day get them back to the top.
Two plays after quarterback Brandon Weeden converted on a fourth-and-1 with a sneak to keep the 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, before scampering in for his fifth TD.
Richardson said once he was deep in San Diego’s secondary there was no stopping him.
“They don’t want no problems,” he said.
The Chargers (3-4) dropped their third straight. San Diego had a final chance, but quarterback Philip Rivers’ pass was batted away by Browns cornerback Buster Skrine with 1:24 left. Rivers finished 18 of 34 for 154 yards but had a potential touchdown pass dropped by Robert Meachem in the third quarter.
“It could have been a big play,” Rivers said. “There were a lot of chances, not just that one.”
With winds off Lake Erie gusting to more than 40 mph and a steady rain falling from the opening kick to the final whistle, neither offense could get anything going.
“I’m still thawing out right now,” Richardson said.
He had been limited in practice all week with a rib injury Richardson sustained two weeks ago. But unlike last week when he was tentative hitting the hole, Richardson ran with purpose from the outset. He also had an important 12-yard reception in the fourth when the Browns were backed up near their goal line.
“This is football weather,” Richardson said. “You grow up looking at the Cleveland Browns and people up north and you wonder how they do it.”
Because of the bad weather, the Chargers, too, were forced to run and Ryan Mathews picked up 95 yards on 24 attempts.
Nick Novak kicked field goals of 43 and 31 yards for San Diego, which blew second-half leads in consecutive losses to New Orleans and Denver before its bye. But the Chargers never got ahead in this one and Meachem’s huge drop will be the play that haunts coach Norv Turner most this week.
“You saw it. I saw it,” Turner said. “We go out and trust each other and this loss is on all of us. When you have opportunities to make plays, you’ve got to do it.”
Meachem didn’t offer any excuses.
“I took my eyes off of it,” he said. “I thought about scoring first before I caught the ball.”
The Browns were effective getting Richardson outside with quick pitches, plays that allowed him to minimize smacked in the ribs and forced some of the Chargers defensive backs into situations where they had to try to bring down the bruising back in space — not an easy job. Turner, though, felt one of his defenders should have brought Richardson down.
“He got away from us,” Turner said. “He’s an outstanding young player, but on his touchdown run, we had a number of guys who didn’t make a play.”
San Diego’s offense sputtered for much of the first half but Rivers moved the Chargers in the final two minutes, setting up Novak’s 43-yard field goal as time expired that cut Cleveland’s lead to 7-3. His 31-yarder made it 7-6 in the third.
NOTES: Shurmur said one of the game balls will go to Browns vice president Bryan Wiedmeier, who underwent emergency surgery Friday to remove a brain tumor. Wiedmeier was released from the Cleveland Clinic and is recovering at home. … Chargers KR Richard Goodman injured his hamstring returning the opening kickoff and did not return. … Browns DE Emmanuel Stephens sustained a neck injury in the first half and sat the rest of the game. … Rivers made his 103rd consecutive start, second to only Eli Manning (127) among all active QBs.