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Flutie watches as Browns win

CLEVELAND – As Doug Flutie watched helplessly from the sideline, Tim Couch and the Cleveland Browns came up with some early season magic to match San Diego’s.

Couch threw a 19-yard TD pass to Kevin Johnson with 1:15 left Sunday as the Browns defeated the San Diego Chargers 20-16, giving Cleveland its first three-game winning streak since returning to the league in 1999.

In just four weeks under first-year coach Butch Davis, the Browns (3-1) matched their entire win total from last season and became the NFL’s biggest surprise after four weeks.

They did it by shutting down Flutie and the Chargers (3-1), who went just 1-15 a year ago and nearly pulled off an improbable comeback in the closing seconds.

Flutie had two chances at the end zone, throwing two balls into crowds that fell incomplete. One was nearly caught by Curtis Conway, who was behind Cleveland’s coverage.

Davis must have been having flashbacks to Nov. 23, 1984, when as Miami’s defensive line coach, he watched Flutie complete his famous “Hail Mary” pass in Boston College’s 47-45 win.

With the Browns trailing 16-13, Couch hit Johnson in the corner of the end zone on a third-and-6 play. The third-year receiver went over cornerback Alex Molden to make the grab.

Flutie nearly did it to Davis again on San Diego’s last drive. He scrambled 11 yards for a first down on fourth-and-10 before picking up 27 yards on two completions.

But this time, he couldn’t pull off another miracle.

Flutie finished 17-of-37 for 149 yards, and rookie LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 102 yards, including a 54-yarder, on 19 carries and one TD.

Couch went 14-of-27 for 203 yards.

Phil Dawson kicked two field goals for the Browns, who finished 3-13 a year ago after starting the season 2-1.

Wade Richey kicked three field goals for San Diego. He banked in a 38-yarder off the left upright with 8:32 remaining to give the Chargers a 16-10 lead.

Dawson’s 27-yarder closed Cleveland to 16-13 with 4:58 left.

The Browns forced San Diego into a three-and-out on its next series and got the ball back at midfield following Darren Bennett’s 26-yard punt.

On the winning drive, Couch made a perfect pass to Johnson on a third-and-10 play. Three plays later, the duo hooked up again for the game-winner.

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