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Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Takkarist McKinley provide daunting triple-threat off edge

Cleveland’s trio of pass rushers delivered one of its best collective performance of the season in Sunday’s win

Pick a play on the score sheet from any of the Browns' top three edge rushers Sunday — the three tackles from Jadeveon Clowney, the one sack from Myles Garrett or the two tackles from Takkarist McKinley.

Odds are strong that the play was one of the top highlights of the Browns' 24-22 win over the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium. All three edge rushers contributed in sizable ways and played arguably their best individual performances of the season in the same game, one the Browns absolutely needed to win to generate playoff momentum in the final four regular season games.

Together, the trio produced eight tackles, 3.5 sacks, five QB hits and two forced fumbles. The group didn't pass up any opportunities for a game-changing play, and the defense was able to hold on late to seal the win because of them.

"I thought all three of those guys were outstanding," coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday. "All three of them played so hard, just constantly rushing. That quarterback was not easy to get on the ground, so they were tired."

That quarterback was Tyler Huntley, who replaced Lamar Jackson in the second quarter when Jackson was carted off with an ankle injury. Jackson, the 2019 league MVP, didn't return to the game, but the challenges Jackson poses as an elusive quarterback were still present with Huntley, who's also quick and capable of making impressive throws.

Damage from Huntley and the rest of the offense was minimized, however, with the Browns' edge players.

No play was bigger than a sack from Garrett in the second quarter. The play will be remembered forever with the Browns — it was Garrett's 15th sack of the season and put him in sole possession of the single-season franchise sack record — and it could be the best play of the season, too. 

That's because Garrett also forced a fumble, which he recovered himself. The stadium erupted as Garrett scooped the ball with no Ravens defenders between him and the end zone 15 yards away, and he raised his arms in celebration as well once he crossed the goal line for his first career touchdown.

"Just a great play by a great player," Stefanski said. "For him to be ball aware in that moment was something we've been talking about and emphasizing. To get it out, and then to recover it and run it back in, I thought was again a great player making a big play in a big moment."

Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Ravens yesterday by the Browns photo team

Those six points proved to be even more pivotal after the Ravens managed to score 19 unanswered points to nearly eliminate the Browns' lead. The defense needed to create other big stops to ensure the lead could live, and two of them came from the other big men on the edge.

McKinley's big moment was created through sheer resiliency, and it happened during a crucial sequence in the red zone when Huntley dropped back to pass and scrambled to his right.

McKinley started the play on the other side of the line of scrimmage and needed to fight through what was initially a good block from Ravens RT Alejandro Villanueva to keep his pursuit alive, and as he escaped and closed in, Huntley attempted to make a juke move on another defender.

But he was clobbered by McKinley. The hit was so hard that the ball came loose, and it was recovered by DT Ifeadi Odenigbo to eliminate the scoring threat.

"(McKinley) plays with great effort," Stefanski said. "He really throws his body around there. He was playing how we envisioned him to play."

The same can also be said for Clowney, a three-time Pro Bowler who delivered another bone-crushing hit to Huntley on the Ravens' final drive of the game.

His sack, which was applied to Huntley's blindside, set the Ravens back to a third-and-20 from their own 41. The hit was set up from mismatches created by Clowney and Garrett, who purposely cut his pass rush move to the front of the pocket to force Huntley to back into Clowney's territory. Clowney ran past his blocker looking for Huntley to backpedal, and when he did, he pounced with ferocity.

The Browns stopped the Ravens from finding the yards on the final two plays to reach the first down, which is why Clowney's sack to put them in third-and-long was so important.

It's the kind of scenario Garrett and Clowney, two first overall picks, look to achieve every week.

"It's been a one-two punch," Garrett said. "To have someone you count on on the other side, and really on the whole D-line, is beautiful to see."

Such performances are what the Browns envisioned when they signed Clowney and McKinley to join forces with Garrett. So far, the trio has produced 22.5 sacks and has, at times, been the Browns' biggest strength on a defense that's found its stride — Cleveland has held opponents to 22 or less points in six of the last seven games.

The Browns need them to keep it going because — as Sunday showed — when they're at their best, the entire defense is at their best with them.

"With those guys playing physical, playing fast," Stefanski said, "you have a chance."

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