CLEVELAND - Butch Davis said he could see a game like this coming all week.
Despite seven days of distractions that included the release of the team's most productive wide receiver of the last five years, the Cleveland Browns authored what Davis called "the most complete game we've played in the two and a half years I've been here, in every phase."
The Browns dominated the Arizona Cardinals 44-6 Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, ending a three-game losing streak and pulling to within one game of the AFC North Division lead.
"A large part of that certainly started early in the week with the players undying commitment to trust each other, believe in each other and focus," said Davis.
A large part of the Browns big win also started in early April, when the NFL put the Arizona Cardinals (3-7) on the Browns schedule for this weekend. Their inept performance was just what the doctor ordered for a team that had struggled to a disappointing 3-6 start and returned from last week's trip to Kansas City recognizing it was now in what Davis called "gut-check time."
"Forget about a tough week, it's been a tough month," said Davis. "But their character showed up this week. Teams win because they have good people, good character and good chemistry."
Kelly Holcomb clearly had his best chemistry of the season with a receiving corps that, for the first time since the Browns return to the NFL in 1999, did not include Kevin Johnson.
Holcomb completed a stunning 29-of-35 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns. His main target, Andre Davis put together the best day of his young, two-year career, catching seven passes for 117 yards, including the Browns first touchdown of the day - a 4-yarder that put the Browns ahead 10-0 with 2:57 remaining in the first quarter.
Quincy Morgan added 116 yards on five catches, highlighted by a 68-yard third-quarter touchdown, giving the Browns their first 100-yard receiving tandem since Ozzie Newsome and Ricky Feacher in the final game of the 1982 season.
Dennis Northcutt also reached the end zone on one of his six catches (56 yards), scoring on a 1-yard shovel pass in the second quarter.
"Kelly was accurate, and those guys can all run with the football," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "That is what we want to be. Hopefully we will continue to grow now that we have some continuity with the offensive line healthy."
Barry Stokes, Shaun O'Hara, Jeff Faine, Paul Zukauskas and Ryan Tucker were all in back together on the offensive line for the first time in a month, and that seemed to make all the difference in going from an offense that struggled to sustain drives in three straight losses to out-gaining Arizona by almost 300 yards (481-187).
"I think I only got hit a couple of times, and when you get through a pro football game without really getting hit, that's pretty phenomenal," said Holcomb, who completed passes to eight different receivers.
The protection gave Arians the opportunity to unleash the Browns most aggressive gameplan in weeks, attacking Arizona cornerbacks David Barrett and Renaldo Hill, who were often left alone on islands in the Cardinals' fruitless attempts to blitz Holcomb.
"It is considerably easier to be aggressive as an offensive coordinator when you have your offensive line back intact," said Davis. "There were two or three times when the difference between a 40- or 50-yard gain was just a fractions of a second. The ball got delivered, we made the play, then Kelly got hit and knocked to the ground. Maybe in previous weeks, he would have had to scramble around in the pocket and that screws up the timing."
The line also did just enough in the running game to help James Jackson (19 carries, 45 yards) post the first two-touchdown game of his three-year career. Jackson scored on 4-yard runs in the third and fourth quarter to continue the rout.
The Browns' defense was just as dominant, keeping an opponent out of the end zone for the third time this season. Arizona's only points came on Neil Rackers field goals of 42 yards in the second quarter and 26 yards in the third.
"I thought we played well, but I wouldn't necessarily say it was our best game of the year," said defensive coordinator Dave Campo. "It was probably the most consistent pressure we've put on the quarterback all year, though."
While Mark Word was credited with the Browns' only sack on a play that saw Cardinals quarterback Jeff Blake scramble out of bounds for a loss, the Browns' front four often forced Blake (9-of-21, 121 yards) and backup Josh McCown (4-of-11, 31 yards) to throw either on the run or before they was ready. The result was a combined three-interception day by safety Earl Little, rookie cornerback Leigh Bodden, and veteran linebacker Brant Boyer, making his first start of the season in place of the injured Ben Taylor (back).
The Cardinals were just as ineffective running the ball. Marcel Shipp, who had played well in recent weeks since replacing eventual Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, managed just 23 yards on nine carries. Shipp also fumbled once on a second-quarter hit by Browns defensive end Courtney Brown.
"This was a big win ... but now we have to show we can play like this consistently," said Holcomb. "We haven't done that this season ... You have to win games in November and December in this league, and we have another big one next week (against the Pittsburgh Steelers), and I'm looking forward to it."
At 4-6, the Browns are now just one game behind Baltimore and Cincinnati in division logjam. Pittsburgh can also move one game of the pace with a win tonight at San Francisco.