Sure, there might have been a skunk in the stands at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday. But, in the end, those who root for the Cleveland Browns will say the end result of the team’s 23-17 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t stink. Granted, everything that happened between the Browns’ opening drive touchdown certainly didn’t help – Cleveland went nearly 60 minutes of action until they reached the endzone again. Nevertheless, all that matters is the end result which was a win, right?
Boy, what a win it was. Again, the Browns scored their lone touchdowns on their first and last possession of regulation, the latter of which tied it at 17-17 and forced the game to head to overtime. It looked like the game might end in a tie, but then Jacoby Brissett found Amari Cooper for a 45-yard gain from midfield before Nick Chubb finished the game and sent Tom Brady and the Buccaneers packing. If you’re Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski, this win over Tampa Bay was exactly what the doctor ordered. More often than not, the Browns would come out strong on either side of the football and everyone would slowly watch effort wane as the team embarked on a slow march towards defeat. But, this week at home in the rain clearly was a different one for the Browns.
“I think that just speaks to the team,” said Brissett to the media postgame. “When we were going through our rough patch, I always just kept preaching that the men in that room are the right men for the task. It was never going to be easy. We needed everybody today. We knew that going into this game that it was going to be a 60-minute game. Everybody stepped up and played their parts well. Everybody made plays when we needed them to. Guys stepped up. I think the most encouraging part was the mental toughness and stability of this group. At one point, we all hit lulls in the game. We just kept on fighting and kept on sticking to it. That just speaks to the character of the men in that room.”
Chubb was consistently featured in what’s always been a run-first offense and finished the day with 116 yards on 26 carries as well as one rushing touchdown. Not only that but, Chubb hit the 1,000-yard mark today, becoming the first Brown to record four straight seasons with 1,000-yard performances since Jim Brown accomplished the feat in 1958-61. While Chubb still has quite a while to go until he can be even considered close to Brown for all-time Browns rushing touchdowns, Chubb is second in rushing touchdowns with 12, which is a great place to be with a handful of games to go for him and Cleveland both.
While Chubb had it going on the ground, the Browns could also match him in the air. Cooper came through in the clutch in the final quarter and into the overtime period. Sure, he dropped a key third down play late in the game that would have kept a good drive moving, but otherwise, Cooper was stellar. His 17-yard catch on the final drive of OT brought the ball out to Cleveland’s 46 and two plays later, he rambled for 46 yards after his defender had slipped. David Njoku, meanwhile, had a fairly pedestrian day at the office but his touchdown grab to tie the game late more than ignores the rest of his on-field production.
Finally, when it comes to Brissett, he more than deserves his flowers after Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers. In all actuality, this game was likely Brissett’s swan song with Cleveland as the team is set to have Deshaun Watson under center next weekend in Houston against the Texans. Considering Brissett has more or less guided the Browns to this point and despite everything else going against Cleveland, the journeyman quarterback might’ve saved his best for last. Brissett finished the game with 23 completions on 37 attempts for 210 yards as well as one touchdown and one interception. Mind you, the interception came on a Hail Mary attempt and doesn’t really count against Brissett’s overall performance. But, considering this was likely his last game under center for the Browns, Brissett being able to go out and win against his former mentor in Brady was even sweeter for his time in Cleveland.
The offense playing so well likely had a part in keeping the Browns engaged on the defensive side of the ball. Superstar defensive end Myles Garrett was almost nonexistent in the first half but was energized in the second two quarters and into the extra period. Garrett was a presence on almost every down in the fourth quarter and finished with 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, three total tackles and had a few key hits on Brady to halt things for the Buccaneers as well.
While Garrett was key, all defensive credit should go to defensive back M.J. Emerson and his effort in slowing down Tampa Bay star receiver Mike Evans. Emerson’s kept Evans to two catches for 31 yards and made an effort to swat at Evans’ arm just as the ball arrived which forced sloppy one-handed attempts to catch the ball. Emerson being great certainly helped keep the Browns in this game defensively, especially with Denzel Ward struggling so mightily. It’s positive momentum for a Cleveland defense that has struggled all season long. Sure, it doesn’t change what’s happened in the past but it does help the Browns build things going forward on the defensive side of the football.
Speaking of momentum, that’s what Cleveland needs more than anything heading into next week’s matchup in Houston. After two frustrating losses to the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, all the Browns can do is take things on a game-by-game and week-by-week basis. It’ll be tough considering Cleveland will be integrating a new quarterback into the mix but these small victories can help the Browns salvage what was once considered a lost season. As of today, Cleveland isn’t eliminated from the NFL postseason but does need a lot to go their way in order to get there. Again, game-by-game and week-by-week are how the Browns need to approach this. But, for now, there’s still a bit of optimism that’s starting to blossom after a strong win over Brady and the Buccaneers.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at [email protected] He can also be found three to five times a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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