There was a time when the Browns lost this sort of game. Remember 2004? The 58-48 loss at Cincinnati?

On his way out of the stadium, Phil Savage had a Browns ball cap pulled down near his eyes. His Cleveland Browns sports jacket was buttoned down. Last week, when the Browns were a national punchline, was the time to dress incognito.

Savage is the same man most every week. He doesn’t get too high, nor too low.

But Sunday, on his way from the locker room to his car, Savage’s eyes were almost as wide as his smile. He saw the team he thought he put together for the first time since taking over as general manager.

“Last Sunday wasn’t the way we wanted to start,” Savage said of the 34-7 loss to the Steelers. “But boy did things change.”

Sunday was a long time coming for the Browns.

They got into a shootout with the NFL’s version of Wyatt Earp. Cincinnati arguably has the NFL’s most prolific offense.

Against the Steelers, the Browns looked like air could take them to overtime. Then the Browns win, 51-45, on Sunday. Go figure.

There was a time when the Browns lost this sort of game. Remember 2004? The 58-48 loss at Cincinnati?

“From that point on, the Browns were in a big hole,” Savage said. “Hopefully, today is symbolic of getting out of the hole, because we won a game no one expected us to.”

No one in their right mind expected Sunday. To quote noted philosopher Clark W. Griswald, “If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised.”

But Savage watched the Browns’ final walkthrough Saturday morning. It’s a light workout where the game plan in fine-tuned. Savage saw Kellen Winslow Jr. He saw Braylon Edwards. Then Jamal Lewis. He watched Joe Jurevicius work in the end zone.

“People think we’re bad, but we’re not that bad,” Savage said. “We can pose some matchup problems, and (Sunday) it came to the forefront.
“I don’t know how good we are, but I know we’re not bad.”

It still hurts to think about last week against the Steelers, but each time Cleveland hit the end zone Sunday, it felt like salve on a wound.

Derek Anderson to Jurevicius was Neosporin. Anderson to Edwards was a Band-Aid. Anderson to Winslow, New-Skin.

Lewis broke a run here. Another there. Then the Mack Truck of a running back chugged 66 yards to the end zone to break the Bengals’ backs.

Cleveland Browns Stadium rocked. When a picture of Edwards flashed on the scoreboard, the crowd went wild. These fans are starved for someone to adore, and Sunday they had a half dozen.

“It seems like the reactions to this team are in the extreme,” Savage said. “I think the team responded in that way, because this was a lot different than last Sunday.
“We live close to Cedar Point, and it’s been a roller coaster for sure. I think things will settle down somewhat, and we can focus and go out and play solid football and give ourselves a chance to win.”

More than the passes and Lewis’ gashing runs, the sweetest sight in Cleveland was Anderson walking off the field. His uniform was clean. His body parts all moved.

The offensive line opened holes when they were supposed to be open. It also closed a wall around Anderson.

Savage smiled widest when he talked about his offensive line. The Browns have more than $125 million tied up in Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach and Kevin Shaffer.
Not one quarterback sack.

“They didn’t even hit me,” Anderson said.

Edwards called the past week interesting. The starting quarterback was traded to Seattle, and Anderson earned the job by default.

On Sunday, Anderson proved he belonged. At least for this week. Anderson misfired on his first five passes. He looked scared and shaky. He didn’t look like a starting quarterback.

“I didn’t even know I was 0-for-5,” Anderson said, sounding like an NFL starter.
Anderson waited his entire life for Sunday. In college, he slung it around the field at Oregon State, too often to the wrong team.
“In my own head, I’ve always had confidence in my abilities, probably had too much confidence at times,” Anderson said.

Too much confidence has never been a problem in Cleveland. What happened Sunday was a team being accountable.

For two hours, veteran players talked about how bad the team played last week. The message, “We’re too good to suck, but choose if you’re tired of losing.”
For the first time since Romeo Crennel and Savage have been in charge, the Browns looked like they were tired of losing.

Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail: todd.porter@cantonrep.com