MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings appeared to have the Browns right where they wanted them.
Although trailing by a point, Minnesota had pressured Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield into an intentional grounding penalty that was followed by an incompletion.
Third-and-20 from the Cleveland 26-yard line with just 35 seconds remaining.
A stop would force a punt and likely yield decent field position, maybe even a shot to reclaim the lead with a field goal.
Instead, Kareem Hunt took the handoff and gained 33 yards on a draw play.
"I think that one big run put them over the top," Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said. "That draw they had, when Kareem ran to the right, we've just got to get better in the run game. But I felt like overall, defense, we played pretty well, but there's always stuff we can clean up to get better."
Griffen said the Vikings were expecting the Browns to take a deep shot, "but they called a good play, and they hit us good."
The gain provided the seventh third-down conversion of the first half by Cleveland. The Browns were 0-for-7 in the second half, but their defense kept the Vikings out of the end zone for the final 52-plus minutes of the game and protected a 14-7 win.
An 11-yard completion from Baker Mayfield to Rashard Higgins followed the 33-yard rush, the longest play of the day for either team. It moved the ball within field goal range for Chase McLaughlin a play later. He netted the 48-yarder for an 11-7 lead before a second half.
The Vikings had been aggressive with their timeouts on Cleveland's previous drive, calling three timeouts after the Browns advanced the ball to the Minnesota 5 at the 2-minute warning.
Minnesota appeared to get a stop on a fourth-and-2 play with 1:26 remaining, but Eric Kendricks was called for holding, which awarded a new set of downs at the 1. The Browns scored with Hunt on a 1-yard touchdown three plays later with 1:16 left on the clock.
The Vikings accidentally had 12 men on the field for the extra point. As Armon Watts was running off, Sheldon Richardson called a timeout that was granted by officials. The only problem was Minnesota was out of timeouts, which caused a delay of game penalty.
"Apparently somebody was in there, and so one of our guys called a timeout. Which, no one should call a timeout but me," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "So that was a mistake that we made."
The infraction gave the Browns the option of spotting the ball at the 1 for a 2-point conversion. The easy toss to Andy Janovich gave Cleveland an 8-7 lead.
The Vikings offense sputtered on the following possession with an incompletion and a 2-yard gain on a check-down pass to Ameer Abdullah, who ran out of bounds and stopped the clock with 1:04 left in the first half.
A false start penalty on Ezra Cleveland set up a third-and-13. Kirk Cousins completed a 3-yard pass to K.J. Osborn that forced the Browns to use their second timeout before a Vikings punt.
Rather than a high-scoring affair, the Vikings and Browns stalemated in the third quarter, with Cleveland protecting its 11-7 lead and ramping up its pass rush.
The only points the rest of the way occurred on a 53-yard field goal by McLaughlin with 6:16 remaining in the game.
Minnesota wound up with three more possessions. They ended with an interception on the first play, a fourth-and-3 pass that was swatted by Malik Jackson with 1:21 remaining and an incompletion on a Hail Mary on the game's final play.
Zimmer expressed confidence in the Vikings despite Minnesota's 1-3 start for the second consecutive year.
"I feel fine about it. I feel fine. You guys worry so much about stats and not about how things look and how things are," Zimmer said. "Now we gave up a 30-yard run on [third-and-20] in the 2-minute drill. I'm disgusted about that, yeah, but for the most part, there were a lot of good things that were happening today.
"At the end of the day, they scored one touchdown against us. I still believe offensively we can look like we did a week ago, and two weeks ago, as well. Like I told the team, I've been doing this 27 years – I know good teams and I know bad teams," Zimmer added. "I know this team has a chance to be pretty darn good. We may not look like it right now because we're 1-3, but even like [Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski] said to me before the game, 'You got a really good football team here.' And they do, too. They were just a little bit better than us today."