What a disappointing outcome. The Cleveland Browns lost to the Atlanta Falcons by a final score of 23-20 in a game of ups and downs. There were times where the offense moved the ball with ease, yet also struggled massively in some phases. And then for as well as the defense did for a stretch, Atlanta finally figured out in the second half that Cleveland was missing almost their entire starting defensive line. Let’s get to the full game recap.
Cleveland received the opening kickoff and were moving the ball down the field quickly, as QB Jacoby Brissett found TE David Njoku on 2 passes for 45 yards. An 8-yard strike to TE Harrison Bryant set up 3rd-and-1 from the 2 yard line, and for whatever reason, Cleveland decided to go hurry up, perhaps to prevent Atlanta from substituting into a goal line package. It didn’t work, as RB Nick Chubb was stopped for a loss of 2 yards. On 4th-and-3, head coach Kevin Stefanski decided to go for it. Brissett couldn’t find anyone, resulting in a turnover on downs.
Atlanta took over at the 3 yard line and right away got a 25-yard completion from QB Marcus Mariota to TE Kyle Pitts. More chunk plays ensured, and then in Browns territory, Altanta converted a couple of 3rd-and-long situations. The Falcons’ drive stalled just outside of a goal-to-go situation, as S Grant Delpit broke up Mariota’s third-down pass intended for rookie WR Drake London. K Younghoe Koo came on to put a 30-yard field goal through the uprights, giving the Falcons a 3-0 lead.
The Browns’ next drive started at the 8 yard line after a hold on special teams. On 2nd-and-6 from the 12 yard line, the Browns ran a fleaflicker, leading to a tight end screen pass. Njoku had run for the first down, but then a defender got his helmet on the ball to force a fumble. Atlanta recovered at the 31 yard line.
A few plays later, RB Cordarelle Patterson changed directions to sprint to the pylon for a 12-yard touchdown, extending the Falcons’ first quarter lead to 10-0.
In the second quarter, the Browns settled in on their third offensive drive of the game. The drive was run-heavy, but still featured a key pass from Brissett to WR Amari Cooper to get the ball past midfield. On top of that, on 4th-and-1 from the Falcons’ 39 yard line, Cleveland went for it and Brissett’s sneak moved the chains. Down at the goal line, on 3rd-and-goal from the 4 yard line, Brissett didn’t see anyone and scrambled through defenders to find the end zone for a touchdown. Altogether, it was a 16-play, 75-yard drive that took up 8:45 of game clock that made it a 10-7 game.
The Browns’ defense then responded with some pressure and generating a three-and-out, only Atlanta’s fourth three-and-out drive of the year. The Browns might have been on their way to a three-and-out on their next drive too, facing a 3rd-and-inches at the 29 yard line. However, Brissett lined up for the sneak on fourth down and got it again. that was followed by runs of 3 and 13 yards by Chubb to get close to midfield. Heading into the two-minute warning, though, a reverse to Njoku didn’t fool the defense, leading to a loss of six yards.
Out of the two-minute warning, Brissett ripped a 15-yard strike over the middle to WR David Bell, setting up 3rd-and-1. Rather than sneak it, Brissett ran a playaction fake and found WR Donovan Peoples-Jones deep for a 42-yard gain to the 1 yard line.
Sadly, the offense started sputtering then. On 1st-and-goal from the 1, Chubb was stopped for no gain. On second down, a holding penalty was call, setting up 2nd-and-goal from the 11. On the next play, Brissett couldn’t get the screen pass off to RB Kareem Hunt, leading to an incompletion — and third down was a throwaway. K Cade York had to come on for the 29-yard field goal, tying the game at 10-10 heading to halftime.
Cleveland’s defense forced another three-and-out to begin the second half, and after their punt, the Browns’ offense began things at the 22 yard line. Brissett ran a playaction fake on the first play and aired it out again for Peoples-Jones, but the pass was just a hair too close to the sidelines and an incompletion. A few plays later, on 3rd-and-3, the handoff went to Hunt, but he only gained a yard so P Corey Bojorquez came on for his first punt. Atlanta would begin their next drive at the 31 yard line.
The Falcons went backwards on their next drive. First, it was thanks to a face mask penalty that London committed against S John Johnson III. then, on 3rd-and-18, DT Jordan Elliott dumped Mariota for an 8-yard sack, putting Atlanta back to the 15 yard line. The pushback in field position allowed Cleveland’s offense to begin their second drive of the half at the 37 yard line. Their offense couldn’t get in sync either, though, and the Browns punted right back to the Falcons, with Bojorquez’ punt downed at the 11 yard line this time.
Atlanta finally got a first down with a third down run by Mariota, but a few plays later, the first big play of the half happened in favor of Cleveland. Mariota tried to hit London on a medium crossing route, but CB Denzel Ward ran the route better and undercut it for an interception! The defense gave the ball to the offense at the Falcons 43 yard line, their best starting field position of the game.
Cleveland picked up their first first down of the half via the ground game, lifting a bit of a weight off their shoulder. However, they couldn’t pick up another first down and had to bring on K Cade York for a 45-yard field goal attempt. York remained perfect on field goals on the season, giving the Browns their first lead of the game at 13-10 with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter.
Atlanta then responded with RB Caleb Huntley, who proceeded to receive the first 5 carries of the drive for 38 yards, picking up three first downs and getting the ball to the Browns’ 37 yard line heading into the fourth quarter. It was the same story to begin the fourth quarter: all runs for Atlanta (5 more runs), with Huntley punching it in from 5 yards out to give the Falcons a 17-13 lead with 12:51 left in the game. It was like the Falcons finally figured out that the Browns are missing three of four starters on their defensive line.
Then, it was the Browns’ running backs who responded: Chubb for 6 yards, 9 yards (pass), and 3 yards. After one 9-yard completion to Njoku, Hunt came on and burst to the right side for 20 yards. With Chubb back in on the next play, he sprinted left for a 28-yard touchdown to put the Browns right back on top 20-17 with 9:51 remaining in the game.
The embarrassing run defense continued, as Atlanta ran for 5, 21, and 41 yards to a 1st-and-goal from the 4 yard line. A 2-yard run made it 2nd-and-goal from the 2 yard line. Then, Atlanta finally tried to pass, and of course it was a botch as the ball went past Mariota. He ended up throwing it away. Then on third down, they tried to throw again, and he had to throw it away after pressure game. Koo came on for a 21-yard field goal, tying the game at 20-20 with 7:19 to go.
The Browns’ drive started good and they got past midfield, but then it stalled. With four minutes to go, Cleveland didn’t want to risk a long field goal try, so they punted it. The punt was downed to the 9 yard line, although S Ronnie Harrison made a mistake by not trying to let it roll deeper. Cleveland’s defense got a run stop on first down, but on second down, Mariota found a received wide open for 45 yards, and then 15 more yards were tacked on due to a facemask penalty.
Atlanta ran it three times and the defense came up with a stop, forcing a 45-yard field goal attempt by Koo. He was right down the middle to give the Falcons a 23-20 lead with 2:28 to go. The Browns burned all three of their timeouts on the drive.
Now it was Brissett’s time to try to lead a game-winning drive. After a first down incompletion, Brissett lofted a 20-yard pass to Bell, then hurried to the line to hit Peoples-Jones on the sideline for 6 yards. Cleveland went to the two-minute warning facing a 2nd-and-4 from the Atlanta 49 yard line. Hunt ran for 3 yards, and Brissett ran for 5 yards to move to the Atlanta 41 yard line. That’s when things went south.
Brissett’s first-down pass to Peoples-Jones was incomplete. On second down, the screen pass once again was not able to be connected on; and because of the delay, Bitonio was downfield, pushing Cleveland back to the 46 yard line. On 2nd-and-15, Brissett was sacked for a loss of 8 yards. And then on 3rd-and-23, Brissett was intercepted trying to hit Bell up the seam.
Atlanta kneeled it out from there. Ugh.
There are multiple layers of frustration to this game. The Browns only came away with three points when having two very close scoring opportunities in the first half. In the second half, the Falcons’ figured out they just needed to run the ball, to Cleveland’s demise. But the offense still should’ve had that final push to either get a field goal chance, or win it with a touchdown, and they failed. How many times did we attempt the screen pass today, only to watch Brissett not be able to get it off? Brissett was back to average this week, and that also contributed to the loss.
Up next, the Browns will host the Los Angeles Chargers.
- QB Jacoby Brissett: 21-of-35 for 234 yards, 1 INT. 5 rushes, 16 yards, 1 TD.
- RB Nick Chubb: 19 carries, 118 yards, 1 TD. 2 catches, 9 yards.
- RB Kareem Hunt: 10 carries, 49 yards. 2 catches, 19 yards.
- WR Amari Cooper: 1 catch, 9 yards.
- WR Donovan Peoples-Jones: 5 catches, 71 yards.
- TE David Njoku: 5 catches, 73 yards.
- Cleveland had the ball for 35:44 compared to 24:16 for Atlanta.
- The Browns out-gained Atlanta 403 yards to 333 yards.
- Atlanta ended up having 202 yards rushing, most of which came at the end of the third quarter onward.