The Cleveland Browns are at a crossroads with their meeting against the leader of the AFC South Division the Jacksonville Jaguars. Both clubs were seeded before this epic game. But each team also has another NFL team hot on their heels.
The Browns came into this game with a two-game losing streak while the Jags barely lost to the ascending Cincinnati Bengals last weekend.
Cleveland has both the Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers right behind them, while Jacksonville had a good lead on all its division teams, but now the Indianapolis Colts are making some noise and are creeping up wanting to take home the division crown.
Both teams needed a win today. Only one was the winner as Cleveland took home a hard-fought 31-27 victory to help their playoff aspirations. All of the AFC North teams won except for the Steelers which has helped Cleveland.
So who played well for the Browns? Who didn’t?
CB M.J. Emerson - Every defensive back wants to have a game like Emerson did in just the first half alone. His second pick of the game was a thing of beauty as he contorted his body, made a diving reach, and then was able to cradle the ball into his stomach without touching the ground. More importantly, Jacksonville was knocking on the door for some sort of point with 1:47 left before the half. Emerson did miss a tackle on a key third down as the first quarter was winding down, but on another third-and-eight, he came up on WR Zay Jones for the short pass and instantly nailed him for a two-yard gain. On his first interception, he was deeper than Jones and had the inside defense in case the pass was accurate. Which it was not and sailed right towards Emerson who made a nice diving grab as if he was the intended subject. In the third quarter, it was Emerson who busted up the pass intended for Jones who was open on a long third down play that forced yet another punt. One other important aspect that Emerson did also. With three minutes left in the game, Lawrence was flushed from the Browns’ 25 and took off. Emerson met him after a five-yard gain as Lawrence was trying to get out of bounds. Instead of lowering the boom, and perhaps getting a 15-yard senseless penalty (depending on how the officials viewed it as we know they love quarterbacks), Emerson simply clicked shoulder pads and lived for another down. Very, very smart play.
Defense - The high-flying Jaguars had just 143 yards in the first half, 16 of that was on a Travis Etienne run. Two sacks and constant pressure berated the injured but playing QB Trevor Lawrence. Grant Delpit’s sack with JOK there at the end was a six-man pass rush which meant every DB had man coverage. Jacksonville’s first-half possessions? Punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, TD, interception, punt, downs. 58 total rushing yards for their opponent all day which forced the Jags to throw more than they are used to and with a hobbled QB. Four sacks, three picks, three dropped interceptions, stopping a fourth down play, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, 10 batted passes, 13 QB hits, 63 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, and no running lanes available. Exceptional day for this group against a very good ballclub.
P Corey Bojorquez - Coming into this week, Bojo was ranked fourth in the league with a 50.2 yards per punt average. Against Jacksonville, he continually kicked deep for a 51.5 average on eight punts. Yes, eight. In the first half, he boomed two kicks of 70 and 56 yards with three kicks inside the opponent’s 20. On a Pro Bowl run?
Opening drive - This was probably the best opening drive all season for the Browns. RB Jerome Ford set the tone with eight yards and then on a screen instead of running past his blockers like most running backs do, he waited behind C Ethan Pocic and RG Wyatt Teller to gain 10 more yards. Just six plays for 75 yards, 3:21 off of the clock, and a seven-point advantage. Then QB Joe Flacco hit WR Cedric Tillman across the middle for 14. TE David Njoku snuck out and was wide-ass open for the 34-yard touchdown pass.
JOK - Please tell us that this man is at the top of Pro Bowl voting. Man on a mission today. His assault began with just under two minutes left in the first quarter when he stuck RB Etienne for a one-yard loss as JOK simply filled the gap and went after his target. Delpit’s sack up the middle was a result of JOK stunting up the middle to which Lawrence was forced to turn to his left in the direct path of Delpit on a key third-and-four. Midway through the third stanza, Etienne became the safety valve and JOK caught him for a yard loss. In the first play of the final quarter, JOK stopped TE Evan Engram from getting a first down as he bullied the receiver down after nine yards. Finished with a team-high eight total tackles.
DT Maurice Hurst and DT Shelby Harris - Both big men had a good game. Jacksonville just could not get anything going up the gut, with both Hurst and Harris plugging their gaps. Right before Delpit’s sack in the second quarter, Harris was able to stop former Browns RB D’Ernest Johnson after hitting a big hole and a two-yard gain. Harris tackled Etienne for a six-yard loss early in the third quarter right before the Jacksonville fumble. Hurst almost nailed Lawrence for a safety but hit him a bit too high as the QB was able to wiggle out of the grasp. He did sack Lawrence after beating C Luke Fortner on an inside move that now made the Jags have a third-and-20. Both men were part of the first-and-goal stuff of Etienne with just over five minutes left in the game. With 41 ticks left in the third quarter, Hurst beat Fortner again who forced Lawrence to step forward and attempt to scramble but Ogbo grabbed the quarterback for a sack instead. Hurst finished with four tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, and one QB hit. Harris had two tackles and one tackle for loss. This unmovable force was a factor today.
TE David Njoku - The offense went to Njoku in spurts. At first, he was used predominately as a blocker which may have helped his cause when with 13:40 left in the second quarter he chipped and then released to nothing but green and the game’s first touchdown after a 34-yard reception. His second TD reception he delayed again, then was open as he stiff-armed S Andre Cisco right before he entered the end zone. With 1:35 before the half, Njoku took a short pass to the right and was stopped, then plowed for 15 yards. Entering the game, he was second in the league in yards after contact and he showed why. With 38 seconds left in the first half, he gained 11 yards to Cleveland’s 36. Did not have as many targets in the second half and led all Browns receivers with eight targets, six receptions, 91 yards, two touchdowns, and zero drops.
QB Joe Flacco - This man is very cool under pressure. He had his good moments, and he had some questionable moves. Overall, let’s keep him in this category if for nothing more than gaining 311 passing yards which no Browns offense has seen in quite some time.
The TD pass to David Bell was exceptional as he had a defender right in his face with a fourth-and-three situation to boot. Bell’s man fell and he walked into the end zone for a 28-14 lead with just over six minutes left in the game. That pass was clutch and Flacco did not flinch at the pressure. Flacco did airmail a pass intended for Njoku early in the game on a third-and-nine and laid one into the turf for the waiting arms of Bell in the fourth quarter on another third down play, but his accuracy was there and he managed a great game. He was able to connect with both WR Amari Cooper and his former New York Jets teammate WR Elijah Moore on several key downs. His fumble seemed to cripple the Browns at that moment and did lead to seven for Jacksonville. And his interception cost Cleveland points as they had driven to the Jags’ 37. Finished with 26/45 for 311 yards, a 6.9 yards per reception average, three TD passes, one pick, sacked a single time, and had a 92.0 QB rating.
Fourth down plays - Who goes for it three times and makes all three, including scoring seven points on one possession? On the flip side, Jacksonville was 0-1.
Injuries - Attrition is part of all sports. Players get hurt no matter what week it is. Against Jacksonville the Browns had these players hurt at some point: Myles Garrett, Za’Darius Smith, Grant Delpit, Pierre Strong, Ethan Pocic, Hurst, Ogbo Okoronkwo, Cam Mitchell, and Jerome Ford. Pocic suffered an arm stinger early in the game while Delpit had a groin injury. Both of these players did not return. With OT Dawand Jones out, the offensive line is now counting bodies.
TE Jordan Akins - Used mainly as a blocker when inserted, but he completely whiffed on the pass rush of DE Roy Roberson-Harris in the first quarter which then had an open lane to Flacco who had to toss it into no-man’s land and was lucky an intentional grounding call was not made instead. On the next play, Kareem Hunt was stuffed, then an incomplete pass, and suddenly a good drive became a punt instead. He was able to get open on passing routes yet was stopped dead after just a three-yard gain on a smaller defender. No yards after contact for this big man. Missed a block on a third-and-short in the third quarter to which Hunt was swallowed up. One target, one catch, three yards. Yawn.
CB Cam Mitchell - The Jaguars’ first touchdown came as Mitchell could not track Jones which left the receiver alone in his route and luckily was a bit overthrown and would have been a sure six. Mitchell was late covering Jones on a third-and-three with 2:43 left before the half which was converted for a new set of downs as he gained five yards. Mitchell whiffed on the tackle of WR Parker Washington who then luckily fumbled as MLB Anthony Walker stripped the ball. With Cleveland up 21-7, Mitchell was fooled on the route of Engram who gained 10 yards midway through the third quarter.
Milk Bones – Unless your name is Doctor Google, stop acting like you know everything
RB Kareem Hunt - Not so much of a good game for his running skills with just 10 carries for 27 yards. But one play made this Browns win a reality. Up 21-14 and into the fourth quarter, Flacco dropped back on a fourth-and-three play when linebackers Josh Allen and Devin Lloyd rushed unimpeded toward Flacco. Hunt then demolished the streaking Lloyd who would have creamed Flacco without the pass getting off. Instead, a short pass to David Bell was caught for the touchdown. Team players do this. Four minutes later who can forget Hunt’s scrum for nine yards?
Punt coverage - Almost all game, the Jaguars could not get any traction on punt returns because of Sione Takitaki, Matthew Adams, D’Anthony Bell, Charley Hughlett, and Mike Ford. Then Pierre Strong forced through his block to nail KR Washington for no gain. Washington was able to get in two good returns, one for 11 yards while the 26-yarder was called back because of an illegal block. Overall, coverage was contained to just 12.6 yards per return. This is an unsung group.
K Dustin Hopkins - This cat is money. His 55-yard field goal became the game-winner as it just slipped in on the far right upright. This year, the league’s leading kicker is 8 for 8 on kicks of 50+ and trots out on the field like it is nothing. Was 4-4 on PATs. Smooth, calm, chill.
C Nick Harris - Came in for Pocic when he became injured and played very well. His main defender was Tyler Macy who had zero tackles, one batted pass, and a single QB hit.
BOUNCED BACK AND GOT A BIG W!!! pic.twitter.com/UwBZRz5bOk— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 10, 2023
Wide receivers collectively - No one receiver had a banner day and each contributed at their time. Cooper had several key receptions early while Moore seems to have chemistry with Flacco. Bell had just one catch and went the distance. Coop had seven catches for 77 yards while Moore snagged three balls for 42 yards.
Do you think Joe Flacco is the starting QB going forward?
This poll is closed
I would like to see DTR give it a shot
Flacco is not the answer