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Browns' 2023 season is a stepping stone for what's to come even in Wild Card defeat

Cleveland’s defense finished first in the league in several categories this season


The 2023 season did not end as expected, but it can be a stepping stone for the Browns. As NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo said after losing in the 2023 NBA playoffs, "There is no such thing as failure in sports, as some days you win and some days you lose; you are working towards a goal." The Browns will use this season as a lesson moving forward to next season.

From the start of training camp in West Virginia, the Browns aimed to improve team chemistry and bond the players together. That bond started to show off the field when the different positions would have outings with each other on their own. That bond showed on the field after every big play, the players would all celebrate together.

"I think we did a good job of setting a foundation, and as I said, we're a very close-knit group and very tight," CB Denzel Ward said. "We're still going to be hanging out and being with each other during the offseason, working out together, training and everything. So just once we get back, I think still having that foundation, setting that routine, being with one another, and working towards that goal of getting to the postseason and making a difference."

The Browns believed that since the start of the season, they had the team to go far and a chance to win it all. They had setbacks, starting with T Jack Conklin with a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 and RB Nick Chubb's season-ending knee injury in Week 2. They had to play with five different quarterbacks this season due to injuries. The Browns also had a total of 13 players go on injured reserve this season.

Despite the challenges, the team still finished second in the AFC North with a record of 11-6. They clinched a playoff berth in Week 17, and it was the first time the Browns made it to the playoffs since 2020. The 2020 season was a significant achievement for the Browns as it marked their first playoff appearance since 2002.

Even with their playoff hopes cut short this season, the players believe that this team has the potential to make a deeper playoff run in the future.

"In 2020, when we made the playoffs, it was the first time I had made the playoffs, so I wasn't quite sure, but I was confident that we could get back," G Joel Bitonio said. "And then obviously, It kind of fell apart a little bit there, but I think we have the right guys in here, the right culture right now, the camaraderie in the room is good. So, I am confident in this group and their ability to get back to the level we want to next year."

The Browns wrapped up the 2023 season on Jan. 14, 2024, following their loss to the Texans in the Wild Card round. Players cleaned out their lockers and spoke with media, and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski held a season-ending press conference at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.

The 2023 Browns made history on all three sides of the ball. The defense was amazing from the start and finished arguably the best defense in the league. They led the league in several categories, including average total yards per game at 270.2 and average passing yards per game at 164.7. They also led the league in first downs allowed per game at 14.9, third-down efficiency at 29.1 percent and fourth-down efficiency at 40 percent. According to Pro Football Focus, the Browns defense allowed the fewest first downs since 2010, with a total of 247. 

While the defense was great all season, the offense struggled for most of the season. They were last in touchdowns scored and a bottom-three team in total passing yards through the first 12 weeks. However, from Weeks 13-18, the offense showed vast improvement.

The Browns offense had a total of 14 passing touchdowns from Weeks 13-18 and only nine from Weeks 1-12. During that time, QB Joe Flacco threw for over 300 passing yards four times and broke team records. Flacco's 1,616 total passing yards and 13 touchdowns are both the most by a Brown in their first five starts. He is also the only Browns player to throw for 300 yards in four consecutive games. Yet, there were other offensive records broken. WR Amari Cooper broke the record for the most receiving yards for a Brown in a single game when he caught 11 passes for 265 yards in Week 16. 

Entering the season, the Browns had questions about their kicking game, but it turned out to be the most consistent component of their game. K Dustin Hopkins accomplished something that no other player from the Browns had ever done, as he set a new Browns record with 31 made field goals in a single season. The previous record of 30 field goals was set in 2008 by K Phil Dawson.

Hopkins also almost broke another Browns record, but he injured his hamstring trying to make a tackle in Week 16 against the Texans that forced him to miss the remainder of the season. Hopkins was just four points shy of breaking Jim Brown's record of 126 points scored in a single season.

The 2023 season had many highs and lows, but the Browns kept their composure and relied on the 1-0 mentality. They wanted to take care of everything in front of them first. As they head into the offseason, the 2023 season will be looked at as something to build on for the future.

"I think the biggest thing for me is just these guys really fought like crazy. They really did," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "And it's the makeup of the football team that drives your success. And I give Andrew (Berry) credit for the guys that he brought into this locker room and the caliber of players that he brought in. I just, I'm very appreciative of all those guys."