Joe Thomas watched the kick tumble through the air and sail right of the upright, giving the Browns their first win in more than a year. He felt a little lost.
“I was looking around for people to hug,” he said. “There were a few tears in my eyes. I was really happy. There was a genuine feeling of joy. The Christmas spirit was amongst us, for sure.”
Yes, Cleveland, there is a Santa Claus.
On the verge of infamy and further embarrassment, the Browns, who have spent this season being kicked around, ridiculed and beaten to a pulp, finally triumphed.
Two losses from an imperfect season, the Browns survived a last-second field goal attempt and got their first victory after 14 losses on Saturday by beating the San Diego Chargers 20-17.
When San Diego’s Josh Lambo missed a 45-yard field-goal attempt as time expired, the Browns (1-14) had their first win in 377 days. Cleveland’s small crowd erupted in celebration, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam cheered from their suite, and Brownsplayers poured off their sideline as if they had just won the Super Bowl. Several players dropped to the turf in disbelief and relief.
“Finally getting that win … definitely felt amazing,” Thomas said. “You don’t want to say it was like our Super Bowl, but it really was.”
The Browns avoided becoming the second team to go 0-15, and no longer have to worry about joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to lose all 16 games.
“I don’t want that next to any of our names associated with this organization and so we got that monkey off our back,” said coach Hue Jackson, who got his first win with Cleveland.
The Browns built 10-point lead in the third quarter and hung on — defensive tackle Jamie Meder blocked a potential tying field goal with 3:49 left — to snap their 17-game losing streak dating to last season.
The Chargers (5-10) lost their fourth straight and one that could sting for a while. San Diego’s players had little to say afterward, and rookie defensive end Joey Bosa, who recorded two sacks, declined to speak with reporters.
It took everything the Browns had, and some help from the Chargers, for Cleveland to finally come away with a victory following weeks of injuries and losses.
“No one has ever given up,” Jackson said. “I know sometimes it does not look as good we want to, but we have stuck to it and kept fighting. Just trying to do everything we could to win, and that is what you see tonight. It is an opportunity for our guys to do something that we have been trying to do all year, which is win a game, and we were able to do.”
Quarterback Robert Griffin III sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter, forcing Jackson to bring in rookie Cody Kessler for the final 10 minutes.
Isaiah Crowell had two touchdown runs for the Browns, who couldn’t come up with a clinching first down. They punted the ball back to San Diego and Philip Rivers with 1:46 left.
Without any timeouts, Rivers, who threw for two touchdowns and 322 yards, converted on fourth down by hitting Antonio Gates . He drove the Chargers to Cleveland’s 28 with 28 seconds left.
But unable to stop the clock, the Chargers had to rush their field goal unit out. The normally reliable Lambo pushed his kick right.
“I let down my teammates, my organization, and I let down the fans,” said Lambo, who was 24 of 25 inside 50 yards before Meder’s block. “That is going to weigh heavy on me.”
The Chargers had nine sacks, but hurt themselves with nine penalties for 92 yards.
Chargers: host Kansas City in what could be the final game at Qualcomm Stadium with San Diego owner Dean Spanos considering a move to Los Angeles.
Browns: visit Pittsburgh in the season finale.