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Browns freeze up, officially eliminated from playoff with cold Christmas Eve loss to Saints

Deshaun Watson
Posted at 7:21 PM, Dec 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-24 20:03:18-05

CLEVELAND — It was the coldest regular season home game in Browns franchise history and it ended a little cheerless the day before Christmas as Cleveland fell to the New Orleans Saints in the final home game of the season, mathematically eliminating them from the playoffs.

The two teams were not only fighting each other, but fighting the elements. A crisp 6° temperature at kickoff with a real feel of -16° greeted the two teams as they entered the field and in conditions like that, it's a tall task to adjust to the feel of the air.

That being said, the game began exactly as one would imagine—3-and-outs, forced punts, players looking stiff and frozen every drive. Heated benches, coats and hand warmers can only keep one toasty for so long, after all.

But after five drives of exchanging punts, the Browns defense turned things around, regaining possession with an interception by safety Grant Delpit late in the first quarter. The pick set quarterback Deshaun Watson up perfectly on his next drive, which showcased a true positive that the Browns can take out of this season—the continued development of Watson in the offense.

Watson handed the ball off to Nick Chubb a few times on the drive, a solid plan of attack with the elements at hand, and inched a little closer with a short pass to David Njoku. But Watson came into his own on the next play, walking into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown, a play perfectly scripted for Watson to get his first rushing score with Cleveland.

After another strong defensive stop, the Browns were able to put three more points on the board with a 30-yard field goal from Cade York, but from there, they were frozen and the Saints found their defrost button.

The defense had some final two minute breakdowns to end the half and allowed the Saints on the board with a field goal, but still boasted a one-score lead. Then the second half kicked off. New Orleans opened things off with a nine-play touchdown drive.

The Saints put up 17 unanswered points, gashing the Browns defense, which struggled to make tackles and gave some questionable looks.

Cleveland's second half was a mix of defensive blunders and offensive stall outs, but the Browns had one last chance driving down the field with minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but in the red zone on the 15-yard line, an incomplete pass to Amari Cooper, followed by two more to Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Njoku, the Browns turned things over on the final 4th down play that saw Watson sacked.

It was a brutal way to end and the team has held themselves accountable, especially Njoku, who apologized to Watson after the game for being unable to come down with the ball.

“There is no excuse. Quicker or not, I dropped it. I am owning up to it right now," Njoku said. “I went to apologize to [Watson]. I felt like I let him down and the team down. He said, ‘It is alright, bro. Just try to dust it off.’”

In the 17-10 loss to the Saints, the Browns were officially eliminated from the playoffs. It is a tough pill to swallow for the players, who felt the loss hard as they packed up in the locker room.

"It's obviously just frustrating. When you have as much talent as we have on the team and two years in a row we get eliminated form the playoffs before the season's over, it's very frustrating," said cornerback Greg Newsome II.

But there was some positive in the locker room as well. The idea of using the next two games to build upon the connection with Watson and prepare for a full 2023 season with the franchise quarterback under center.

"For as long as we're here in terms of how many games we have left we're going to put in the work, regardless of whatever outcome happens. We have a job to do and we have to get back to work," Njoku said.

Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.

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