The NFL Playoffs hit the emotional extremes each season for teams and their fans.
Each of the 14 teams that make the playoffs hope that a combination of solid play, matchups, and a little bit of luck, will have them lifting the Lombardi Trophy after the Super Bowl.
But the reality is that 13 of those teams will end the postseason with a loss, and in the process put a bit of a damper on what had otherwise been an exciting season.
The finality of the playoffs hit hard for the Cleveland Browns and their fans on Saturday against the Houston Texans as the Browns saw their playoff hopes evaporate in about two minutes in the third quarter.
The bitterness from that loss will linger for a while, that is the nature of being a fan, but it should not overshadow all the moments from the regular season that led to the Browns being in a playoff game in the first place.
It will take some time, but one day when fans look back on the 2023 regular season, there will be several memories that they will be talking about for years to come.
Nick Chubb’s season-ending injury: This might be a strange one to lead off with, especially in a season with more injuries than many could keep track of, but losing Chubb for the season in Week 2 hit harder than any other injury.
Chubb is the heart and soul of the team and the offense’s security blanket. No matter what else was going wrong, the Browns knew they could always hand the ball to Chubb and he would make something good happen.
Everything was different without Chubb in the backfield, and fans will always be left to wonder if the season would have turned out differently if the game’s best running back had not been sidelined just six quarters into the season.
Deshaun Watson’s second half against Baltimore: Quarterback Deshaun Watson will always have his detractors due to his off-field issues and mega contract. But the Browns did go 4-1 in games that Watson started this season and none was more memorable than the Week 10 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Playing with a high-ankle sprain and a fractured shoulder that would require season-ending surgery a few days later, Watson led the Browns back from a 14-point four-quarter deficit by going 14-for-14 and leading three scoring drives in the second half to beat the Ravens.
Watson may never return to the player he was in Houston, or live up to the massive contract, but for one afternoon in Baltimore, he showed everyone what is possible when he is on top of his game.
The return of the Kardiac Kids: The Browns didn’t just post double-digit wins in a season for just the second time since 1994, but they did it in a fashion that gave a new generation of fans a taste of what it was like in the late 1970s with the original Kardiac Kids.
From Dustin Hopkins converting game-winning field goals against the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, to running back Kareem Hunt’s one-yard touchdown run with 15 seconds remaining against the Indianapolis Colts, and quarterback Joe Flacco leading the offense to 13 points in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears, fans got their money’s worth from the Browns this season.
Myles getting it done against his favorite opponent— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 10, 2023
try a triple team next time pic.twitter.com/JMyKzTnaRy
A true home-field advantage: For the first time since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns made Cleveland Browns Stadium a place that opposing teams wanted no part of as Cleveland finished with a home record of 8-1, tied for the most home wins in the NFL.
They accomplished that in large part on the backs of a defense that was simply dominating at home.
Starting with their Week 1 beatdown of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns exerted their will against the Tennessee Titans (94 yards of total offense), San Francisco 49ers (215 total yards, three-of-12 on third down), Arizona Cardinals (58 yards of total offense), Pittsburgh Steelers (77 passing yards), Jacksonville Jaguars (three interceptions and four sacks), and the Chicago Bears (four-of-18 on third down) to help earn a playoff spot.
Some of the success was due to the level of competition, but that shouldn’t dim what the defense was able to accomplish in turning Cleveland Browns Stadium into a house of horrors for opposing offenses.
Flacco Fever: It may have ended the only way it could given quarterback Joe Flacco’s propensity for turning the ball over, but for four magical weeks Cleveland was gripped with Flacco Fever.
Signed in late November because the Browns were basically out of options, Flacco helped lead the Browns to the playoffs with a four-game winning streak in December. Along the way there were touchdowns (11 in total), passing yards (1,362) and, unfortunately, turnovers (nine by Flacco, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns.)
Flacco may be destined to go down in team history alongside Don Strock, another aging quarterback signed out of retirement in desperation that led the Browns to the playoffs in 1988, but fans will never forget the month to remember that Flacco delivered for the Browns.
Next man-up mentality: The Browns got a hint of what was to come when starting right tackle Jack Conklin went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1.
But even in the NFL, where injuries are part of the game, what the Browns went through in 2023 was ridiculous as the club ultimately placed 13 players on season-ending injured reserve, a list that, in addition to Conklin and Nick Chubb, included safety Grant Delpit, defensive tackle Maurice Hurst II, Conklin’s replacement in right tackle Dawand Jones, safety Rodney McLeod Jr., linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., and left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr.
It was at quarterback where things hit an absurd level, however, as an early should injury to starter Deshaun Watson led the Browns first to rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, then to journey P.J. Walker, back to Watson, then back to Thompson-Robinson before finally landing on Joe Flacco.
Toss in Josh Driskel, who made a throwaway start in the season finale, and the Browns cycled through five quarterbacks and still managed to finish tied for the second-most wins in the AFC.
The rise of David Njoku: It has been a long time coming, but this season was the year that tight end David Njoku finally turned into the consistent offensive threat the Browns believed he could be when they selected him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Njoku finished with career highs in receptions (81), yards (882) and touchdowns (6), and used his athleticism to transform his receptions into big plays as 625 of his receiving yards came after the catch.
And if that was not impressive enough, Njoku did it during a season that saw him suffer significant burns to his face and hands during an accident at his home in late September.
It took a while, but 2023 will be remembered as the season where Njoku grabbed his spot among the league’s best tight ends.
What will you remember most about the 2023 season from the Browns?