CLEVELAND — He's been criticized for his play calling, sideline demeanor and dreadful record.
Pat Shurmur has been under fire.
On Sunday, Cleveland's coach fired back.
With key contributions from unexpected players, the Browns put together their best all-around performance in a 34-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that ended Cleveland's 11-game losing streak and took some pressure off Shurmur, whose job security in his second season was eroding with every loss.
"I'm happy," Shurmur said after getting his first win over an AFC North team in nine tries. "I'm holding it back so I don't appear sensitive.
"That's a joke."
Shurmur was able to laugh and relax after his young team, which had been competitive but without a win to show for it through five games, finally strung together enough big plays and wasn't going to be denied.
"It's terrific," said Shurmur, who improved to 5-17 with the Browns. "Not so much for me, but for my family, the players, really everybody who goes to work on Monday morning. Mondays feel better when you win a game."
In Cleveland, all seven days of the week have been tough for almost a year. The Browns (1-5) had not won since Nov. 20, a franchise record-tying stretch that could have gotten longer if not for a strong fourth quarter in which Cleveland outscored Cincinnati 21-10 and delighted long-suffering fans who celebrated the win as if it meant so much more.
"Oh my goodness, it's like a big weight off everybody's shoulders," said cornerback Joe Haden, who sparked Cleveland's defense in his return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancers. "It felt like we won the Super Bowl, honestly. I'm just so happy that it was the game I came back and we just made it happen."
Rookie Brandon Weeden threw two touchdown passes on his 29th birthday, Montario Hardesty, filling in for injured running back Trent Richardson, scored his first career TD and cornerback Sheldon Brown intercepted Andy Dalton and returned it 19 yards for a score in the fourth quarter for the Browns, who trailed 14-7 at halftime.
But after making several adjustments, Cleveland outscored Cincinnati 27-10 in the second half and renewed hope this season may be salvageable.
"It kind of felt like we were going to win from the start," said Josh Cribbs, who had a 60-yard punt return in the second half. "I think we're on to something."
The victory ended the Browns' 12-game losing streak inside their division and closed Randy Lerner's tenure as Cleveland's majority owner on a high note. Lerner, who has owned the club since his father, Al, died in 2002, has sold the team to Jimmy Haslam III for $1 billion. Haslam's purchase is expected to be approved by the league's owners on Tuesday in Chicago.
Following the game, Haslam worked the jubilant locker room, shaking hands with Browns players and even giving Shurmur's wife, Jennifer, a thumbs-up out in the hallway. Haslam has said he will not make any personnel changes until after the season, and Shurmur made a good impression on his new boss.
"He was just genuinely happy that we won," Shurmur said
The only concern for the Browns was Richardson, who took a helmet to the ribs in the first quarter and finished with just 37 yards on 14 carries. The first-round pick is scheduled to have further medical tests on Monday, but believes he will be able to play Sunday when the Browns visit Indianapolis.
"I took a shot," Richardson said. "But I'll be back."
Hardesty, whose pro career has been slowed by injuries, gave the Browns a 20-14 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter when he vaulted in from the 1-yard line.
The Bengals made it 20-17 on Mike Nugent's 44-yard field goal with 11:11 left, but Weeden drove the Browns down field and hit tight end Benjamin Watson for a 3-yard TD to make it 27-17.
On Cincinnati's next play, Brown sniffed out a pass route and jumped in from of receiver Brandon Tate, picking off Dalton and running it in toward the Dawg Pound end as Cleveland fans rocked their lakefront stadium like it hadn't been rocked in years.
"We got our stadium back," Hardesty said. "The crowd was going crazy. Now we have to build on that feeling."
The loss was the Bengals' fourth in the last 17 games against the Browns.
"We have got to play better," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We've got to fix it. Obviously we are not playing consistently enough for the ability of the guys that we have. We're almost too nice at times and we've got to have more of a killer instinct."
Dalton finished 31 of 46 for 381 yards with three TDs — two to A.J. Green — and three interceptions.
One of the picks was by Haden, who had seven tackles and made two big third-down plays in his first game since the opener.
Weeden went 17 of 29 for 231 yards and found rookie Josh Gordon for a 71-yard TD in the second quarter. Gordon hauled in Weeden's pass with one hand before scoring his third TD in two games.
After Brown's TD made it 34-17, the Bengals struck back quickly on Dalton's 57-yard TD pass to Green with 5:21 left. Cincinnati got the ball back and was driving again when Dalton was sacked and stripped by Emmanuel Stephens. Browns rookie Billy Winn recovered it and rumbled 35 yards into Cincinnati territory.
Following the game, Winn left the stadium with the ball still tucked under his arm. He wasn't giving it up.
"This," he said, "is a gift."
One that Shurmur and the Browns had been waiting for.
NOTES: Browns K Phil Dawson made two FGs, 12 for 12 this season and has made his last 18 attempts. ... Green finished with seven catches for 135 yards. His 108 catches and 13 TDs are the most by any player in NFL history through his first 21 games. ... The last time the Browns ended an 11-game losing streak they also did it against the Bengals, in 1975. ... Bengals RB Brian Leonard left in the second half with a rib injury. .... After giving up 243 yards rushing last week the Browns held the Bengals to 76 on 20 carries. .... Browns rookie WR Josh Cooper had 2 catches for 39 yards in his pro debut. He played with Weeden at Oklahoma State.