The Cleveland Browns are officially eliminated from playoff contention, losing to the New Orleans Saints 17-10 on Christmas Eve. Let’s get to the full game recap.
Cleveland received the ball first, with RB Jerome Ford having a kickoff returned to the 40 yard line. Right away, as predicted, it looked like everyone was moving in slow motion, though. QB Deshaun Watson managed a two-yard completion before the offense had to punt, but P Corey Bojorquez boomed it down to the 1-yard line, thanks to CB A.J. Green saving it from the end zone.
The defense forced a three-and-out, and after the punt, the Browns’ offense gained field position by taking over at midfield. Two run plays got them into a 3rd-and-5, but on third down, Watson couldn’t get the ball to RB Kareem Hunt and had to throw it away. This time, Bojorquez’ punt was a touchback.
The Saints faced a quick 3rd-and-7 on their second drive, but QB Andy Dalton got a dumpoff pass to RB David Johnson to pick up 7 yards and move the chains. That was followed by a 9-yard run by RB Alvin Kamara to get the Saints in a little bit of a rhythm. A few plays later, Dalton completed a 16-yard catch-and-run to WR Rashid Shaheed. An intentional grounding penalty stalled the drive, though, and from the Browns’ 42 yard line and it being a 4th-and-13, they had to punt.
Now it was the Saints’ turn to reverse field position, as their punt died at the 3 yard line. Two run plays only mustered two yards, and on 3rd-and-8, Watson tried to hit WR Donovan Peoples-Jones downfield on the back shoulder, but in these weather conditions it’s just too hard to make that turn to catch it. The Browns punted, and Bojorquez got it down to the Cleveland 45 yard line. A few plays later, S Grant Delpit intercepted a pass off of a deflection and returned it all the way to the Saints’ 30 yard line!
Chubb got the first two carries for 11 yards and a first down. A lofting short pass to TE David Njoku set up a 3rd-and-3 heading to the second quarter. On the first play of the quarter, the call was a quarterback sweep with Watson, and the sea parted for him for a 12-yard touchdown! K Cade York kicked the extra point to give the Browns a 7-0 lead.
The Saints went three-and-out and punted down to the 28 yard line. The Browns basically picked up two third-and-longs in a row, but both were called back on illegal block in the back penalties on receivers. On 3rd-and-11, though, Chubb got the handoff and picked up the first down around the edge. Chubb picked up another first down with two more carries. That brought Hunt on, who lost yards on his second down run. On 3rd-and-11, Watson zipped a 14-yard pass to Cooper for a first down.
A couple plays later, they faced another 3rd-and-10. He hit WR Michael Woods on a quick slant for 6 yards to set up 4th-and-5 from the 33 yard line. They decided to go for it. Watson sent Cooper in motion and slipped the pass in to his receiver for 21 yards down to the 11 yard line!
On third down, Watson bought a ton of time in the pocket, and Cooper was wide open in the middle. Cooper slipped and fell as he was about to catch it, though. York came on for a field goal attempt, and connected from 30 yards out to give Cleveland a 10-0 lead.
The Saints wised up and finally used QB Taysom Hill as a runner, as he gained 11 and 16 yards; and on the latter play, 15 yards were tackled on due to LB Tony Fields leading with his helmet on the tackle. A 4-yard run by Kamara set up 2nd-and-6 from the Browns’ 20 yard line at the two-minute warning. The Saints kept pounding away, and with a full arsenal of timeouts, were content to keep doing so on their march to the end zone. On 2nd-and-4 from the 8 yard line, Hill only picked up two yards to set up 3rd-and-4 from the 6 yard line. Hill kept it again and was denied, so they brought K Will Lutz on for a field goal. He made it from 23 yards out to make it a 10-3 game at the half.
The Saints received the ball to begin the third quarter, and took the opening kickoff out to the 33 yard line. Cleveland came close to an initial third down stop, but then Kamara got going, Hill continued to be utilized, and Dalton even completed a 14-yard catch-and-run to get them near the goal line. On 2nd-an-goal from the 8 yard line, Hill kept it and basically dragged four defenders into the end zone himself for the touchdown. Lutz followed that up with an extra point to tie things up at 10-10.
The Browns’ offense was rolling to start their first drive in awhile, first with a 10-yard pass to Chubb, and then a 9-yard run by Watson. On 2nd-and-1, though, Chubb only picked up half a yard at midfield. On 3rd-and-short, Hunt got the handoff from fullback and lost yardage. With a 4th-and-2, head coach Kevin Stefanski decided to punt, as the Saints fair caught it at the 9 yard line. The defense, led by Delpit, stuffed Kamara on 3rd-and-2 to force a punt. Peoples-Jones had a nice 12-yard return out to the Browns’ 43 yard line, with 4:13 remaining in the third quarter.
A holding penalty on first down set the Browns back to 1st-and-20. Chubb ran for 9 yards to get some of it back, making it 2nd-and-11. Watson then tried to zip a fastball to WR David Bell on a slant, and it went off his hands and up into the arms of S Daniel Sorensen, who returned it all the way to the 15 yard line.
The Saints ran it twice to set up 3rd-and-8. Dalton dumped a pass over the middle to an open receiver for the first down. On 1st-and-goal from the 4 yard line, Kamara broke a tackle and punched it in to give the Saints a 17-10 lead with 0:55 remaining in the third quarter.
Ford took the opening kickoff to the 33 yard line, and then Hunt had a 3 yard run to set up 2nd-and-7. Watson tried to hit Njoku on a sideline pass, but it was too high and incomplete, setting up 3rd-and-7 heading to the fourth quarter. Watson delivered a strike to Cooper on third down for a big first down conversion. But Cleveland kept trying to throw, with Watson taking a deep shot for Cooper but overthrowing it, and then also overthrowing Njoku on an out route on third down. Cleveland had to punt, getting the ball down to the 10 yard line with 13:26 to play.
On 3rd-and-5, DE Myles Garrett nearly got around the edge, but Kamara caught a pass beyond the arm of a defensive back, and he was off for a 29-yard gain just shy of midfield. Two plays later, the Saints faced a 3rd-and-8, with the defense needing a stop. Dalton got the pass to a receiver downfield on a great throw, but CB Greg Newsome helped knock the ball out to force a punt. The punt was downed at the 10 yard line with 9:41 remaining.
After a 1-yard completion on first down, Chubb got the handoff and found a hole for 19 yards. A few plays later, from their own 40 yard line, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-2. They tried to throw it off a playaction, but Watson had no where to go with it. With seven minutes to go, they went for it on fourth down, going for it again. Watson’s pass to Peoples-Jones was overthrown again for a turnover on downs.
The defense forced a three-and-out, but two more minutes came off the clock, now only five minutes to go. Fortunately, the punt went to the end zone for a touchback. The Browns got to their own 47 yard line at the two-minute warning, facing a 2nd-and-8. While they did have all three timeouts, given the struggle to move the ball, that wasn’t a lot of time. On second down, Watson had Cooper on the crosser, but it was a little hot and outside to handle. On 3rd-and-8, Watson completed the slant to Cooper for a first down.
Watson tried to look downfield on the next play, but couldn’t find someone, and by time he tried to take off, he ran into a sack, forcing the Browns to burn their first timeout with 1:32 remaining. On 2nd-and-13, Watson made a bad decision to just dump it to Hunt for no gain. On 3rd-and-13, though, Watson got the ball to Cooper for 14 yards and a first down. That was followed by an 18-yard completion to Bell, as the Browns burned their third timeout with 0:43 to go, now at the 15 yard line.
On first down, Watson threw the ball out of the end zone to throw it away with no one open. On second down, Watson bought time and almost found Peoples-Jones in the corner, but it just fell incomplete. On third down, Watson had Njoku on the hot route right over the middle, but it went right through his hands. On fourth down, waited, and waited, and waited, and then tried to run but was sacked, ending the drive and the game.
This was a disappointing outcome. With Cleveland up 10-0, they should’ve been able to control the pace of the game. I thought it was dumb that the Saints didn’t utilize Hill early on, and once they did, they got rolling a bit. But the Browns stopped using Watson as a runner, and then were trying to push the ball downfield too much given the weather conditions. Now, they are officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Up next, the Browns travel to Washington to take on the Commanders.
- QB Deshaun Watson: 15-of-31 for 135 yards, 1 INT. 3 rushes, 24 yards, 1 TD.
- RB Nick Chubb: 24 carries, 92 yards. 1 catch, 10 yards.
- WR Amari Cooper: 6 catches, 72 yards.