Greedy Williams has crucial interception in first start since 2019, helping Browns sink Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS — Greedy Williams estimated his teammates gave him 15 slaps on the helmet and 10 hits to his right shoulder while celebrating on the sideline Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The cornerback had just recorded the first interception of his NFL career, but he wanted to calm the Browns (3-1) after the pivotal play because they still needed to hang on for a victory.
“I basically told them, 'An interception doesn't matter if we don't win the game,'” Williams said.
The defense registered two more stops, lifting the Browns to a 14-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings, and Williams' interception with 6:08 left in the fourth quarter proved to be monumental for the franchise and the player.
“Hey, man, welcome back, Greedy,” Browns running back Kareem Hunt said. “He deserves it, man. He works hard. Always got a smile on his face and just a good guy, a good teammate.”
“He's been through a lot,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Last year was not easy on the young man, and he kept coming back at it, grinding in the training room and then finally got out there, and I just think you're seeing a kid get better and better.”
Williams missed all of last season after suffering nerve damage in a shoulder on Aug. 24, 2020, during a training camp practice. Then he fell behind rookie first-round draft pick Greg Newsome II in the most recent training camp after suffering a groin injury Aug. 22 in a preseason game against the New York Giants.
Williams played just 16 defensive snaps through the first three games this season. But he started Sunday for the first time since Dec. 29, 2019, the final game of his rookie season, because Newsome had been ruled out with a calf injury. Williams played all 67 of the defense's snaps against the Vikings (1-3).
Williams saw text messages from his father and fiancee before he met with reporters after the game. Those close to him know the significance of his clutch performance.
“It's really crazy because I didn't even think I was going to be standing right here,” Williams said. “The injury I had, just going around trying to find out how to heal it up faster, it was just a journey. Then to come back to camp, just trying find new ways to mix my game up with this injury. Just getting this opportunity and taking advantage of it, it's kind of a blessing, and without my support — teammates, family, God, everybody — I wouldn't be here right now.”
Williams tallied the game's lone takeaway and his first interception since Sept. 15, 2018, when he helped Louisiana State University defeat Auburn 22-21.
Cleveland Browns give Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins trouble
This time, a Williams interception happened on the first play from scrimmage after Chase McLaughlin had made a 53-yard field goal to give the Browns a 14-7 advantage. On first-and-10 at the Minnesota 25-yard line, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw deep for two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen when Williams tracked the ball and picked it off at the Cleveland 21.
“We were in a zone [coverage]. My guy ran inside, so my job is to look for something coming back,” Williams said. “So I saw him coming back, I was able to read the quarterback, he threw the ball, I made an adjustment on the receiver and caught the pick.”
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A former second-round draft pick, Williams likes to visualize successful plays. He said he envisioned an interception in the buildup to the game.
“I slept on it all night,” Williams said. “When it's like my time to go, and s***, man, I'm just sitting around, I just think about the plays, the game. It came the way I saw it.”
The Browns didn't do much scoring, and quarterback Baker Mayfield lamented his performance after the game. But the defense held Cousins to 14-of-32 passing for 144 yards with an interception after he went 6-of-6 passing for 59 yards and a touchdown on the game's opening series. Those were statistics Stefanski referenced in his postgame news conference.
“To be able to defend the pass like the guys did and have the rush and coverage operating like they were I thought was outstanding,” Stefanski said.
The Browns were credited with five passes defensed against the Vikings. They had only two sacks — end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward split one and end Takk McKinley had the other — but they tallied 10 quarterback hits, led by Garrett's four.
“It makes the quarterback nervous,” Williams said. “When you get nervous back there playing that position, you just give balls away. So we definitely tried to discourage him a little bit and make him make some bad throws, but we kind of succeeded at that.”
Cleveland Browns defense shows outing vs. Chicago Bears wasn't fluke
The Browns had nine sacks and 15 quarterback hits last week in a 26-6 win over the Chicago Bears, but the production came in the NFL starting debut of rookie quarterback Justin Fields.
The defense's most recent outing had a greater quality because the Vikings entered Week 4 ranked third in offense (425 yards per game) and eighth in scoring (29 points a game). Cousins had thrown eight touchdown passes without an interception.
Thielen had just three catches on eight targets for 46 yards. Pro Bowl receiver Justin Jefferson did the most damage with six catches on seven targets for 84 yards and a touchdown.
The Browns held two-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook to 34 yards on nine carries (3.8 average) and the Vikings to 65 yards on 23 carries (2.8 average).
“It just shows we're real and we're ready,” Williams said. “We're just ready to compete against anybody. It doesn't matter who you put out there. I think this defense, we lock in every week, lock into the game plan and everybody will buy into it, and we go out there and dominate.”
And in a huge moment, Williams delivered.
“Obviously, very proud of Greedy, fighting through all the injuries and everything, getting in there and making a play when Greg's out,” Mayfield said. “Happy for Greedy for sure and hopefully that confidence builds and that continues to grow.”
“He's been through a lot, but I told him, 'When you get your opportunity, it's your time,'” Garrett said. “I know a lot of people were doubting him 'cause of the injuries or whatever, but we knew he was ready when he stepped on that field. He's never satisfied, and he's going to go for every play. He's bold like that.”
In other words, being Greedy paid off.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.