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Browns see action from starters, hang on late for win vs. Falcons

The Browns gave some of their offensive and defensive starters playing time in their final preseason tune-up Sunday in Atlanta

ATLANTA — For the first time in the 2021 season, Baker Mayfield, Kareem Hunt, Anthony Walker Jr. and John Johnson III all stepped onto the field in a Browns uniform, looking to make the most of a limited load of reps in Cleveland's third and final game of the preseason.

All Browns players likely to be named Week 1 starters who played Sunday night didn't play past the first quarter, but they did enough to help the Browns secure a 19-10 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and put Cleveland on a winning track as it looks ahead to Week 1.

Mayfield worked with most of his starting offensive line teammates, except for C JC Tretter, and finished 6-of-10 for 113 yards and a touchdown. After sputtering for no points on the first drive, Mayfield paced the offense for a six-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown connection to WR KhaDarel Hodge, who corralled his second touchdown of the preseason and topped it off with his signature air guitar celebration with his teammates when he returned to the sideline.

Mayfield was the star of the drive, though — he was perfect on all four passing attempts for 70 yards. His night was done after the drive, and he was relieved by Case Keenum to start the second quarter.

On the defensive side, LBs Mack Wilson, Malcolm Smith and Walker, Ss Ronnie Harrison Jr. and Johnson and CBs Greg Newsome II and A.J. Green were given the start. They forced the Falcons offense, whose starters featured backup quarterback Feleipe Franks and rookie No. 4 pick TE Kyle Pitts, off the field at their own 46 on the first drive of the game but allowed a 41-yard field goal on the second drive to bring the score to 7-3.

Once the starters departed in the second quarter, the Browns' depth still managed to keep the Falcons off the scoreboard. One of their biggest stops occurred midway through the third quarter, when QB Josh Rosen brought the Falcons down to the Browns' 10-yard line. The Browns then sacked Rosen and forced three incompletions to hand Atlanta an empty red-zone trip.

The next two drives featured two interceptions from Kyle Lauletta, who relieved Keenum in the second half. One was fumbled by Falcons LB Kobe Jones and recovered by the Browns after tremendous hustle by Jordan Franks, who forced the fumble when Jones was in a full sprint to the opposite end zone, and OL Colby Gossett, who recovered the ball.

The Falcons, however, recorded another interception three plays later, but they fumbled the ball again on the INT return. This time, they recovered it themselves and scored a touchdown seven plays later. Rosen connected with receiver Juwan Green for the score, which cut the Browns' lead to 13-9.

Chase McLaughlin, the lone kicker on the Browns roster after the team released Cody Parkey earlier in the week, helped pad Cleveland's lead with field goals from 32 and 28 yards. McLaughlin also attempted a 57-yarder in the first half but missed after the ball hit the crossbar. Green led the defense with six tackles and recorded one pass breakup.

The Browns sealed the 19-10 result late in the fourth quarter when Lauletta hit WR Damion Davis for a 22-yard touchdown. The catch from Davis solidified himself as one of the top players of preseason — he finished the three games with 12 receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

Multiple players from the Browns' defensive line helped stall multiple Falcons' drives. DE Cameron Malveaux registered a team-leading two sacks, while DTs Sheldon Day and Malik McDowell were each credited with a half-sack.

After suffering multiple injuries in each of their first two preseason games, the Browns departed Atlanta with just one injury: OL Drew Forbes sustained a knee injury and did not return.

The Browns will trim their roster from 80 to 53 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday before starting preparations for Week 1 on Sept. 12 in Kansas City.

Check out photos of the Browns against the Falcons in week three of the preseason

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