CLEVELAND — A month ago when Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield survived a helmet-to-helmet hit from Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Jordan Whitehead, no teammates rushed to Mayfield’s defense.

On Sunday, when Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap pancaked Mayfield after running him out of bounds, Dunlap found himself in the midst of a scuffle that included at least seven Browns.

Rashard Higgins and Jarvis Landry responded first in defense of their rookie leader, followed by Breshad Perriman, Duke Johnson, David Njoku, Joel Bitonio and Greg Robinson. As it broke up, interim coach Gregg Williams grabbed offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens by the sweatshirt and herded him back to the sideline.

“That shows how close we are,” Mayfield said. “Obviously, it is a great feeling to have knowing that people have your back. They have that feeling from me, too. I have their back. That is a real team right there. Obviously, extracurricular activity is not necessary, but that just shows what type of bond we have in the locker room.”

With Sunday’s 26-18 victory over the Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns achieved the greatest turnaround in franchise history, going from 0-16 a season ago to 7-7-1. They improved to 5-2-1 at home, their second-best winning percentage on the lakefront since 1999. They earned the first sweep of the Bengals in 16 years. At 3-1-1 in the AFC North, they secured their highest winning percentage since the division was formed in 2002 even with a game remaining in Baltimore.

Mayfield insisted the Browns have not changed the culture. He said they must work every day to ensure players do not become satisfied and get complacent.

But the signs of change are there.

Mayfield said a winning culture is a mentality, alluding to an expected standard of excellence, consistency and competitiveness. But the Browns can’t demand that of each other without camaraderie, without developing a feeling of family. On Sunday, the examples of that were numerous.

Left guard Joel Bitonio departed with a game ball tucked under his arm, he and a few fellow linemen bound for the hospital to present it to beloved position coach Bob Wylie, who broke his ankle in practice Thursday.

When Higgins scored on a 17-yard pass for a 23-0 lead, six Browns pretended to take photographs as he walked the red carpet (aka the white end-zone stripe). The group included Mayfield.

“That’s my entourage, they got the cameras ready. It’s a photo shoot every time you get on the red carpet,” said Higgins, wearing a sparkling necklace that spelled out his “Hollywood” nickname.

“At practice, I always tell those guys, ‘I hop in the end zone, let’s just practice this one.’ We’ve even got secret handshakes. When we handshake, man, it’s a lot going on. We’re just having fun with it.”

It will take more than handshakes to capture a championship, although it worked for the Cavaliers in 2016. It will take reliability and accountability and discipline. It will take pushing through injuries like center JC Tretter, who has played over half the season with a high ankle sprain.

It will take the formation of a brotherhood, which is no longer in its infancy.

“You just believe in each other,” Landry said. “We have been through a lot. Each and every guy, whether it was just personal or individual or collectively as a team early on in the season, I think it has built us up. We have a whole different level of respect for each other and a brotherhood of what we can be.”

Through the firing of coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, through a 2-6-1 start, through three losses by four points or less and a tie in the first seven games, the Browns have developed what Landry called “something special.”

They have formed a collective mindset that a sideline pancake of one is a slight against all. In terms of changing the culture after years of losing, it’s a necessary and encouraging step.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.