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3 Big Takeaways: Browns rely on QB Joe Flacco's veteran presence to erase 10-point deficit

Browns defense continues to dominate at Cleveland Browns Stadium

Takeaways Week 15

The Browns have been on a journey this season like no other. Four different starting quarterbacks. A slew of season-ending injuries to key starters on both sides of the ball from the very first week of the season.

And yet, through it all, they are 9-5 on the season and in a playoff push after beating the Bears.

"Who could have (written) this story? I mean, not even Dr. Seuss," DE Myles Garrett said. "It doesn't get more abstract than what we've gone through, but we're making the most of it, having fun with it. And man, you just got to be blessed with achieving. You're on this roller coaster and we've been through ups and downs, but we're together and that's how we're going to get through what we have and that's how we're going to continue to win."

 Their story continues, as they beat the Bears 20-17 on Sunday, improving their home record to 7-1 at Cleveland Browns Stadium, which is the best home record in the AFC.

Let's look at three of the biggest takeaways from today's win over the Bears.

QB Joe Flacco's veteran experience in fourth quarter

The Browns struggled throughout the first half to find success offensively. They punted on their four offensive drives in the first quarter and opened the second quarter with an interception. However, they continued to stick with the passing game and Flacco found TE David Njoku in the back of the end zone in the second quarter to put the Browns on the board.

They once again went scoreless in the third quarter, having to punt on three offensive drives and Flacco throwing two interceptions in the third quarter — one of which the Bears returned for a pick 6. The Browns entered the third quarter down 17-7.

Then, in the fourth quarter, Flacco led the Browns to the comeback win. He connected with WR Amari Cooper for a 51-yard touchdown pass that tied the game at 17 a piece. Flacco said that he knew there was a Bears defender on the right-hand side, but also saw a hole. Then, he saw Cooper come around the MIKE linebacker and he threw the ball.

Flacco completed 11 of 13 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown and had a fourth-quarter rating of 144.4.

"Believe me, part of you wants to crawl into a hole somewhere and hide from everybody, but you can't do that —especially, somebody like me," Flacco said. "I mean, I've been in this league a long time and you've seen so much happen. You just have to keep your eyes on what's next. You have to continue to look forward and continue to have faith that your teammates are going to get themselves in the right positions for you to get the ball to them. It might not happen, and today it just happened to work out for us.

Flacco finished the game completing 28 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns. His 374 passing yards were the 12th most by a Browns player in a game and the most by a Browns player since Baker Mayfield threw for 376 yards in 2018.

Through three games this season, Flacco has thrown for 939 yards, which are the most by a Brown in their first three starts. He has seven touchdown passes, which is tied for the most by a Brown in their first three starts.

"He's been here before," Garrett said. "Three picks – he's been there before. Three touchdowns, been there before. Nothing rattles him because he has all this experience, and he's going to keep on going through his paces, go back to his fundamentals. And he was clutch for us down the stretch, knowing that he has it in the bag because this is not new to him. He's a guy who's been doing it for so many years. You can't rattle a guy like that. You can't get him off his spot."

Browns' defensive dominance

The Browns dominated on the defensive side of the ball, as they held the Bears offense to a touchdown and a field goal. They kept the Bears scoreless in the first quarter, forcing Chicago to punt three times.

The Bears' touchdown came in the second quarter. After Flacco's pass was picked off and put the Bears in great field position, QB Justin Fields connected with TE Cole Kmet on a short pass for the touchdown. Then, the offense only scored on a field goal in the third quarter.  

While the Browns offense found its groove in the fourth quarter, their defense also had critical defensive stops that not only stopped the Bears offensive drives, but also helped their own offense. CB Cameron Mitchell had a critical play to start the fourth quarter when he tripped up Fields and sacked him on a fourth-and-1 attempt, forcing the Bears to turn over the ball on downs.

As a unit, the Browns forced three turnovers and sacked Fields three times on Sunday. They also recorded 11 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

"For a large, large, large portion of that game, our defense was just lights out,"
HC Kevin Stefanski said. "Getting them in the third and long, harassing the passer, playing the ball when it was in the air. I thought they were stopping the run. Very impressive."

This season, the Browns have limited opponents to 261.1 yards per game, the eighth fewest allowed in Browns history. It's also the lowest in the NFL sine the 2009 Jets allowed 252.3. On Sunday, the Browns limited the Bears to 236 net yards – 88 net rushing yards and 148 net passing yards.

A look at the Bears' Hail Mary attempt

After K Dustin Hopkins put the ball through the uprights on a 34-yard field goal with 32 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Bears had one more final offensive possession to try and win the game. And the Browns had one more defensive effort to seal the win.

"We were just talking about the situation, make sure everybody's on the same page," Stefanski said. "They should not have gotten that big play to get them down there, obviously. Then just conversations about what they're going to do next. And obviously, it felt like the ball was going to go in the end zone on that last one. And you have to execute. I know it wasn't perfect by us. I know you could say we got lucky or whatever, but I thought the guys understood what they had to do."

On the Bears second play, Fields connected with WR Tyler Scott, who had 30 yards on the completion and moved Chicago downfield. Then Fields threw two incomplete passes. With five seconds left in the game, Fields threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone. Garrett said that he had "too good of a view," of the play as it unfolded, as Fields found a way to create some separation from three defenders before he threw up the pass.

Stefanski said he "blacked out."

The ball sailed through the air and bounced off the clutter of players all in the end zone, falling into WR Darnell Mooney's arms. Yet, S D'Anthony Bell saw the ball land in Mooney's hand, and knew he had to try and make a play.

"I was like I have to dive on him. I cannot let that happen and it ended up popping into my hands," Bell said.

Bell recorded the interception as time expired, sealing the win for the Browns. It was also Bell's first career interception.

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