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3 Big Takeaways: Defense continues forcing turnovers to steal win from divisional rival

The Browns turned one big takeaway into a touchdown for a game-winning sequence orchestrated by both sides of the ball


The Browns fought through a 13-3 win over the Ravens on a chilly and snowy evening at FirstEnergy Stadium, advancing their record to 6-8 and securing an always-satisfying win over a divisional rival.

Here are three takeaways from the Week 15 victory:

1. Takeaways keep coming on defense

Make it seven takeaways in the last three games for a Browns defense that's finally begun playing at the high and consistent level it envisioned prior to the season.

CB Denzel Ward snagged the first of two takeaways for the Browns on an interception in the third quarter. He played the pass perfectly and stepped in front of WR DeSean Jackson on a short pass attempt from QB Tyler Huntley, who didn't put enough juice on the ball and left a window open for Ward to swipe it away.

After a slow start to the game — Cleveland led just 6-3 at halftime — the Browns needed a big play to change the pace and put the first big dent on the scoreboard. That's exactly what Ward's interception achieved, as the offense turned the takeaway into a 12-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. 

With the Ravens unable to generate much production on offense, a 10-point deficit felt large and enabled the Browns to control the rest of the game. 

It all started with a takeaway.

"That's always been the emphasis — to get takeaways," Ward said. "We did a good job at that. Those guys did a good job up front, getting pressure on the quarterback and forcing him to make those tough throws. We came away with it."

The defense followed Ward's interception with another takeaway when it recovered a fumble from WR Demarcus Robinson. No points were scored after that drive, but it was still yet another ball the defense was able to steal and highlighted an impressive string of takeaways in recent weeks. 

And in addition to the forced turnovers, the Browns also stopped the Ravens on fourth down three times in the game. They stuffed them on fourth down on the first drive of the evening and then forced incompletions on fourth downs on Baltimore's final two drives.

"We talk about taking it away. It's not a turnover; you have to take it away," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Those guys did that. We talked a lot about just playing hard — just simple, playing hard — and I thought that is what you saw from our guys." 

What do the takeaways all mean for the Browns now? Unfortunately, not much with playoff chances still low. The Browns would've loved for the takeaway train to arrive earlier in the season, but they're still embracing the way they're playing now and what it could mean for how they finish the season and move onto next year.

"At the end of the day, we are who we are," DE Myles Garrett said. "We can't forget what we're doing and how we prepared and the plays we made to get where we are, especially after this game. You want to look back at these wins, and when you look back at this film and what you did and how you prepared, that's something you can really stack upon when you come into the next season."

The Browns celebrate after a win over the Baltimore Ravens on December 17, 2022 at FirstEnergy Stadium.

2. Watson shows more growth in home debut

The setting for Deshaun Watson's home debut couldn't have been much more "Cleveland" — it was cold, windy and snowy and provided a tough environment to throw the ball.

Watson, however, still got the job done. He completed 18 of 28 pass attempts for 161 yards and one touchdown. Sure, the performance was far from polished, but Watson didn't make a game-changing mistake and used the energy generated from Ward's interception to score a touchdown.

That's what any QB needed to do in a game where big offensive plays seemed impossible to find.

"He was seeing it very clearly," Stefanski said. "I thought, for the most part, we protected really well. I thought he was very poised and making good decisions. There are always plays where I know he can be better, I can be better, we can design better plays and all of those types of things, but I know I continue to see a guy who is just getting better and better."

The touchdown drive embodied everything the Browns look to find with their offense in the classic defensive battles often found in AFC North games: The operation was slow and methodical, but successful in the end.

The drive was kept alive by a Ravens facemask penalty on third-and-7 that prevented the Browns from going three-and-out, but then the Browns moved the chains quickly with two connections of 16 and 28 yards from Watson to WR Amari Cooper to push into Ravens territory. A few more slow, methodical gains later, and the Browns were 3 yards away from the goal-line.

On third-and-3, Donovan Peoples-Jones started the play in the backfield to Watson's left side and ran to the end zone once the ball was snapped. A couple Ravens defenders picked him up once Watson released the ball, but Peoples-Jones changed directions quickly and snuck around for the score.

"Just reading the defense," Watson said. "They played zone coverage and the corner is sitting back. I gave DPJ the ball. That's what I need to do is just give our talent and our offensive guys opportunities to make plays in space. Once I gave them to him, he made that play, the defense overran it and he got into the endzone.

"It was a great play by DPJ, a great route."

It highlighted an overall solid day from Watson in a frigid game setting where it's hard for QBs to not make mistakes.

Check out photos of the Browns against the Ravens in Week 15

3. Fight continues despite playoff odds

At times, it was easy to forget that the Browns are a team playing with very small odds of cracking the playoffs. They held the Ravens without a touchdown, did what they needed to stay ahead on the scoreboard and found late-game stops against a team that is still very much alive in their own playoff race and had a lot to play for.

Sure, Lamar Jackson wasn't Baltimore's QB, and the Ravens were also down their top WR in Rashod Bateman. But their defense had been one of the league's best units over the last month and was the core reason why Baltimore entered the game winners of five of their last six games. They also had Justin Tucker at kicker, yet he missed two kicks in a game for the first time since 2018, and one of those was a block from Browns DT Jordan Elliott.

The Browns put up a fight and won. No matter how it looked, they should be proud.

"It was never in doubt, the fight and the guys we had in this locker room," Garrett said. "I wasn't worried about the heart they would bring to that field because I see it every single day. I know how much this means to them. I know our record is not where we want it to be, but we still have those guys who will play 100 percent and give everything towards the game they love."

The Browns guaranteed that their playoff chances won't fall to zero by the end of the weekend with their win. They stood at less than one percent before Saturday, and those chances won't improve much regardless of how other results around the AFC shake out Sunday.

But the win showed that the Browns have it in them to fight to the end, and that could make for some fun finishes to end the season — particularly in matchups against the Commanders, who are strong contenders for a wild card spot in the NFC and Steelers, who are also well removed from the playoff race but will serve as one last rivalry battle for the Browns to fight against in Week 18.

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