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3 Big Takeaways: Browns defense does not record a sack for first time this season

Browns use fourth starting quarterback this season as Joe Flacco led the Browns offense in first game

Takeaways 12.3

The Browns head home from their West Coast road trip with their first two consecutive losses of the season, as they lost to the Rams 36-19 on Sunday.

"I felt like we had a chance their game got away from us," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "So, we got to look at some things and we've got to find a way to close out that game. Put ourselves in a better position – offense, defense, special teams. We didn't do enough in that game."

Let's look at three takeaways from Sunday's loss.

QB Joe Flacco's first game with the Browns

Over the last two weeks, Flacco has gone from not being on an NFL roster, to signing with the Browns to their practice squad, to starting for the Browns in Week 13. And while he has 16 years of NFL experience to back up his ability to step into the situation, it was still an adjustment to learn the Browns' offense as quickly as possible to be able to call the plays in the huddle on Sunday.

Yet, at the helm of the offense, Flacco proved just want he can contribute. On their opening offensive drive, Flacco moved the Browns down field by connecting with his pass catchers and found RB Jerome Ford for a 24-yard touchdown reception.

However, with all the steadiness through three-and-a-half quarters, the late interception in the fourth quarter that set the Rams up for a touchdown proved hurtful in their chances to win. It led to a spiral on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter that led to the 36-19 loss.

"Obviously, the interception, he's trying to make a play," Stefanski said. "But he did some really good things today and put us in position. We got to come away points – we, the offense, myself – we have to come up with the points."

Flacco finished the game completed 23 of 44 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was also sacked twice in the fourth quarter, with one leading to a safety for the Rams.

Flacco was upset with himself following the game about the interception that he threw that was a pass intended for WR Elijah Moore. He said that the Rams were matched up with everyone, and that he was in the pocket for a long time. He wanted to give Moore a shot, but lost track of the safety.

"It ultimately was just a bad decision," Flacco said. "I was late throwing that pass. […] I was trying to back shoulder him a little bit. I thought I had more space out there, but like I said, when you're in the pocket that long and you're kind of staring that way the whole time, you have to be aware that the safety's floating around back there and you have to be able to make a play like that."

Flacco knows that he can still play at an NFL level, which is why he was disappointed and upset about the thrown interception.

"These are the games that I honestly love to be in," Flacco said. "They come down to the fourth quarter, and they're not pretty and they're going to be tight. I think I excel in the games that are played tight and need to have good decisions to be made. So, to not come through in that kind of situation, it definitely stings a little bit."

Defensive struggles continue on the road trip

For the first time this season, the Browns defense did not record a sack.

They did not take down QB Matthew Stafford, and only forced two quarterback hurries. Stefanski said that the protection from Rams' offensive line held up and allowed Stafford to hold out and find those deep passes – one of which led to a 70-yard touchdown from WR Puka Nacua.

DE Myles Garrett believed it was a combination of factors.

"The quarterback, the offensive line, getting the ball out quick and staying at a nice, level spot in the pocket," Garrett said. "But the way they were moving up front as well, credit to them. Sliding, doubling, keeping us off balance. That allowed them to have success throwing the ball and they weren't often going for bombs. They were trying to get the ball out, get to the playmakers and allow them to do it themselves."

The Browns also only had one tackle for loss and two passes defended. They gave up 279 passing yards and three touchdowns, as well as 120 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. They also did not force a turnover in the game.

The Browns defense struggled on the road for the second consecutive game, after facing veteran QB Russell Wilson and the Broncos in Week 12. They were only able to sack Wilson once and had four quarterback hurries. The Broncos finished with 125 net passing yards and 169 net rushing yards.

However, even with the recent defensive struggles – especially on the road – they are not wavering in their belief as a defense.

"Always feel good about this team," Garrett said. "We know exactly what the mission is. Doesn't change. We got a loss here, but we go right back to the drawing board and get back to work."

WR Elijah Moore stepping up in WR Amari Cooper's absence

After WR Amari Cooper left the game in the second quarter with a head injury after he sustained a hit – and was later ruled out for the remainder of the game with a head injury – WR Elijah Moore stepped up to fill the hole left in Cooper's absence. Moore had one of his best games this season. He finished the game with 12 targets, which led the team. He also had four catches for 83 yards – with his longest reception of the day for 42 yards.

Moore struggled early in the season to consistently establish himself in the passing game but started to find his lane as the season progressed. Heading into Week 13, Moore had 43 catches for 418 yards this season.

Stefanski said that with Cooper going out, Moore stepped into Cooper's role throughout the game. Moore averaged 20.8 yards per catch on Sunday, showcasing the connection he and Flacco had from their time at the Jets together in 2021 and 2022.

"Elijah has a lot of talent, and especially when he can kind of get involved early," Flacco said. "He shows a lot of juice throughout the game."

Stefanski also said following the game that Cooper sustained a concussion on Sunday.

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