How PJ Walker and the Browns stunned the undefeated 49ers

How PJ Walker and the Browns stunned the undefeated 49ers

When PJ Walker found out he would start at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday against the undefeated San Francisco 49ers, he called Cleveland's backup quarterback from last season.

Jacoby Brissett, now with the Washington Commanders after starting 11 games for the Browns in 2022, had one piece of advice for Walker: If wideout Amari Cooper wins at the line of scrimmage, "just throw it to him."

Walker did just that. And a big throw to Cooper, coupled with a heroic defensive effort, helped ignite one of the most improbable results of this NFL season: Cleveland's 19-17 victory over previously undefeated San Francisco behind a third-string quarterback.

"Proud of our team. Proud of the fight," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We knew what we were in for. We knew the challenge. We knew how good that team is. ... The truth is, we're a good football team. We're not perfect. But we fought like crazy today."

The 49ers entered the game off a 42-10 rout of the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday night. They had scored 30 or more points in eight consecutive regular-season games. San Francisco running back Christian McCaffrey was in the MVP discussion after scoring eight touchdowns in the first five games. 

Quarterback Brock Purdy led the NFL in QBR, hadn't thrown an interception and had never lost a regular-season game as a starter. And the 49ers, who had a franchise record 15-game regular-season winning streak, were a clear No. 1 in ESPN's power rankings.

The Browns lost star running back Nick Chubb in Week 2 to a season-ending left knee injury. When $230 million quarterback Deshaun Watson was ruled out for the second straight game with an injury to his throwing shoulder, the point spread, according to Caesars, rose from the 49ers being favored by 4.5 points when the week started to 9.5 by kickoff.

But the Browns never backed down.

That started with pregame warmups, when San Francisco receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk irked Cleveland's defensive backs by running through their drills. That led to a midfield skirmish involving both teams.

Samuel and Aiyuk began with shoving Browns safety Juan Thornhill. As Cleveland receiver Elijah Moore got involved, 49ers left tackle Trent Williams came barreling in and knocked Moore's helmet off before tensions finally cooled.

The Browns, however, took the pregame antics personally. "Don't poke the bear," said cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. "We're going to defend our home turf. ... we don't take any disrespect."

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