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Why the Browns turned to David Njoku for his game-saving, one-handed TD grab

The Browns almost didn’t use the play that resulted in Njoku’s one-handed touchdown catch that led to an overtime win over the Buccaneers


The Browns nearly threw out the play that turned into one of the best catches by a Browns player in recent memory.

TE David Njoku gave the Browns their chance to beat the Buccaneers, 23-17, in overtime Sunday because of his extraordinary one-handed touchdown grab on a fourth-down play with 37 seconds in regulation. Njoku speared his left hand at the ball on a 12-yard pass and brought it to his chest, which tied the game at 17-17 and snapped a 45-minute scoreless streak from the Browns.

But here's the thing: QB Jacoby Brissett initially didn't like the play when the Browns prepared their red zone calls.

"Before the game Saturday, I was talking to (head coach) Kevin (Stefanski) about the plan and what we like in the red zone, and originally, I didn't like that play versus that coverage," he said. "I was like, 'I want something else.'"

Normally, that means the play is tossed out without much more thought.

"You don't want to call many plays that the quarterback doesn't like," Stefanski said. "In fact, you throw a lot of plays off the game plan sheet if the quarterback doesn't like them."

But Brissett, Stefanski, QB coach Drew Petzing and the other three quarterbacks on the roster discussed the play a bit more and found one aspect they believed would make it successful.

"'Why is this play good?'" Brissett said. "It was like, 'Well, because we have one of our best players (in) the opportunity to be one-on-one because they're doubling everybody else in coverage.'"

He was talking about Njoku, who would clearly win the battle of size against Buccaneers LB Devin White. Njoku is 6-foot-4 and 246-pounds. White is 6-foot-0 and 238 pounds.

The Browns knew that White would be covering Njoku and have his back turned to Brissett once Njoku sprinted to the back of the end zone. That's when Brissett would pull the trigger.

The play still had a little bit of risk, however, because the Browns hadn't rehearsed the throw in practice.

"We talked through that rep. We didn't get a live rep of throwing that," Stefanski said. "We've had it over the course of the spring and summer. I can't sit here and tell you that Jacoby threw that exact ball to Dave in that situation."

Brissett felt plenty of pressure to make a good throw, too — the game was expected to be his final start with the Browns with Deshaun Watson returning from his suspension in Week 13.

If the pass fell incomplete, it might've been his final pass attempt in a Browns uniform, but with the game — and possibly the season — on the line, Brissett planted his feet and waited for Njoku to breeze by White.

Then, he fired a missile.

"I threw it, and I thought I threw it too high and I was about to start crying," he said with a laugh. "I saw him pull it down, and I was like, 'I could've ran up and kissed him.'"

Njoku was a bit hesitant to call the catch the best of his career, and that's largely because he believes more of those opportunities will come his way.

"My career isn't over yet," he said. "Maybe. Sure."

Most of his teammates, however, called it the catch of the season and were ready to rank it near the top of the best catches in the NFL this year.

"Great catch. Probably the catch of the year," rookie CB Martin Emerson Jr. said. "It's hard. That catch and that (Vikings WR) Justin (Jefferson) catch is probably catch of the year. Oh, and (Steelers WR) George Pickens, the one he got on me, too. That was a good one."

Emerson is referring to the one-handed catch Pickens pulled off against him in Week 3 and the one-handed grab Jefferson made on a fourth-down play in Week 10 against the Bills — the catch ultimately sparked a comeback win for the Vikings in overtime.

Both catches were excellent and belong in the argument. Njoku's catch, however, stands out from the pack because it was a do-or-die touchdown scenario for the Browns. If he dropped it, the game would've ended on kneel-downs from Tom Brady.

"I had the best seat, I think, in the house," WR Donovan Peoples-Jones said. "It was an amazing catch. Ball placement was excellent, where only he could get it. He went up and I saw the one hand and it happened in slo-mo. I couldn't believe it."

Because of Njoku — and because of the decision in the QB meeting to keep the play in the playbook — the Browns took care of business with another touchdown in overtime and brought their record to 4-7, which keeps the door open for a playoff run.

Could the catch and the win be a turning point for the season?

Njoku believes so.

"It says that we don't quit," he said. "Everyone wants to write us off, but that doesn't mean anything to us. I feel like we have to just keep it close in-house and good things will happen."

The Browns celebrate after a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 27, 2022 at FirstEnergy Stadium.