The Browns defeated the Buccaneers, 23-17, and picked up their fourth win of the season Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, which means it's time to give away a round of game balls to the standout performers who made the win possible.
QB Jacoby Brissett
Head coach Kevin Stefanski gave Brissett an actual game ball in the locker room for obvious reasons — he commanded the Browns to victory with one big touchdown pass to David Njoku in the final seconds of regulation and then connected with Amari Cooper for another big play in the final minutes of overtime.
"I'm really happy for Jacoby," Stefanski said. "He's a great leader. He's a great teammate. That's why he got a game ball. We're going to need him to continue to be a great teammate and a great leader. That's his role on this football team. He battled like crazy."
The game ball for Brissett should stand as a symbol for what he’s meant to the Browns this entire season. Players have lauded his leadership and poise under unique circumstances — with Deshaun Watson expected to step in as the starter next Sunday in Houston — and have admired how he brought the locker room together through a difficult 4-7 stretch of the season.
"It's been huge having him as one of our leaders," Joel Bitonio said. "He always talks about us and the team. Obviously, he never talks about himself, but I was thinking that we have to get one more because he's played better than 3-7, or whatever our record was before tonight. He deserved a few more wins in there, so I'm glad we got him one more here."
TE David Njoku
Get ready to see Njoku's one-handed touchdown grab for years to come.
Njoku made the play of the season, arguably the highlight of his career and one of the top touchdowns in the NFL this year when he snared a 12-yard throw from Brissett on fourth-and-10 with only his left hand to send the game into overtime. After a relatively quiet game from the offense, Njoku's catch lit a spark that triggered the success in overtime — and he might've saved the Browns' season, too.
"I threw it, and I thought I threw it too high and I was about to start crying," Brissett said. "I saw him pull it down, and I was like, 'I could have ran up and kissed him.'"
Njoku, however, disagreed that the pass was too high.
"I think Jacoby threw a perfect ball," he said. "I don't know what the hell he was saying before about 'too high.' That was perfect. Kudos goes to him."
All that mattered was that the pass was caught.
"Unbelievable," Stefanski said. "Tried a screen to Dave on the play before and thought we might be able to spring one, and it was close. When you are calling those plays — I have said this before — you're thinking about players and not plays. I'm calling the play, I'm seeing the coverage and I'm thinking Dave the whole time, and (QB) Jacoby (Brissett) is thinking the same. Gave a great ball to where that ball has to be, and Dave goes up and does what Dave does."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Buccaneers in Week 12
CB M.J. Emerson Jr.
The late offensive fireworks shouldn't overshadow a terrific defensive effort, which included shutting Tom Brady and the Buccaneers out in the final 31 minutes and holding them scoreless in two overtime possessions.
Emerson was a huge part of that. He was targeted 10 times in the game and allowed just two receptions, according to Pro Football Focus. He lined up across from four-time Pro Bowl WR Mike Evans for a chunk of the game as well and helped shut him down for just two catches for 31 yards and no touchdowns.
"Rookie corners, they know the offensive coordinator over there gets off of the bus thinking about going after a rookie corner so the ball is coming, and they may make a play here or there, but he is not afraid of it," Stefanski said. "It's fun to watch."
WR Anthony Schwartz
The scoring action for the Browns, as it commonly has all season, started on the first drive of the game.
Schwartz finished the drive with a 31-yard touchdown run that was set up by a toss in the backfield from Nick Chubb. The end-around trick play was the sixth time Schwartz has touched the ball this season, and he made it count by using his 4.26 40-yard dash speed to blow through the Buccaneers' defense.
"By the time I went around the corner and saw it was green grass, I had a feeling it was a touchdown," he said.
The Browns were elated to see Schwartz, a 2021 third-round pick, find the end zone for the second time in his career. His last touchdown happened in Week 16 last season in Green Bay, and the Browns would love to continue his involvement in the offense now with Watson set to debut and give the offense a new, more versatile look.
"I talk to Anthony all of the time," Njoku said. "He knows he has faith in his abilities. He knows he has speed and all of the tools to be a really good player. He just has to persevere like the rest of us. Obviously, when you make plays, that confidence grows. Hopefully, we can all build off of that."
DE Myles Garrett
Garrett totaled his fourth multi-sack game this season and third in the last six games with a 1.5-sack game against Brady. Both sacks were on third-down plays, the first of which happened with two minutes left in the fourth quarter and second coming with three minutes left in overtime.
The Browns scored touchdowns on each of the offensive drives after Garrett took down Brady.
"It's the kind of standard I hold myself to," he said. "It's the kind of plays that you always view yourself as making. If you're that guy, you view yourself making those kind of plays in those moments against that kind of a competitor and someone who has achieved greatness. At the end of the day, I would like that. There's no better feeling, and this one was really special to me."
Garrett spent the final minutes of the game in pain, too, after a hard hit by a Buccaneers' offensive linemen reaggravated an injury in his left shoulder. Garrett finished the game and said he expects to play next Sunday in Houston.
"I almost thought I broke something initially, but just in my head there is no tomorrow," he said. "I can't be focused on 'I'll get better tomorrow' or 'let's focus on the next game.' There's just the next play, and that's all that's in my mind. I have to continue playing regardless of how much pain I'm feeling. There's only one opportunity for greatness. Tomorrow isn't guaranteed. I just wanted it really bad. I wanted it bad for us."
The Browns celebrate after a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 27, 2022 at FirstEnergy Stadium.