CLEVELAND--It's a Christmas miracle!
Not quite, but close!
There will be no parade as the Cleveland Browns avoided a winless season with a 20-17 win on Christmas Eve at FirstEnergy Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 57,272 fans. It was the Browns first win in 377 days since Johnny Manziel led the Browns to a 24-10 victory over the 49ers on Dec. 13, 2015.
The Browns were able to prevail despite having their starting quarterback knocked out in the fourth quarter. Robert Griffin III was placed in the NFL's concussion protocol after being sacked for the seventh time in the fourth quarter with the Browns clinging to a three-point lead.
Christian Kirksey was relieved after promising earlier this season that the Browns would not go 0-16.
"First of all, my teammates, they played their hearts out," Kirksey said. "It's just a wonderful feeling to get that monkey off our back. This hasn't been the season we wanted. We kept fighting. I commend these guys out here, my teammates and coaches. We played our hearts out and got this win."
Chargers kicker Josh Lambo had two field goal attempts missed in the final moments that lifted the Browns to a win. With 3:45 to play, Cleveland's own Jamie Meder broke through the line and was able to block Lambo's attempt to tie the game.
"It feels good to make a big play," Meder said. "I felt something hit my hand and it felt good."
Meder went to Valley Forge high school and Ashland University. Joe Thomas called Meder "The Prince of Parma."
"It was amazing," Meder said. "Being from here, it was just amazing."
Moments after the block, the Browns punted the ball back to the Chargers with no timeouts left, Philip Rivers had moved the Chargers from the San Diego 22 all the way to the Browns 35 after a 25-yard pass to Antonio Gates. After Rivers stopped the clock with 44 seconds to play, Rivers wasn't able to handle a bad snap and by the time he fell on the ball the clock was winding down and the field goal unit had to hurry on to the field and try the field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. It was wide right and the Browns celebrated like they had won the Super Bowl.
Thomas admitted the win got to him more than he would've thought.
“I never wanted to think of it like something you wanted avoid," Thomas said. "To me, it was always just about winning. That’s what you’re trying to do in the NFL is win. Certainly, the emotion and the joy and the happiness after the game in the locker room felt really good. There were a lot of really happy people in there. It was really emotional. I kept telling myself, ‘I shouldn’t be this happy. This is not that big of a deal. We just won a game and it doesn’t even matter.’
"It definitely felt like it was more than just a win," he said. "Obviously, everybody knew the gravity of the situation that we were facing going down the stretch trying to get a win. Finally getting that win and getting the monkey off of our back definitely felt amazing. You don’t want to say it was like our Super Bowl, but it really was. This was the biggest game of our year because it was our next opportunity to get that first win – for coach, for the teammates and for the fans. You could feel it in the stadium today how excited everybody was.
"Obviously, the season didn’t go our way and every week we’ve battled and stayed the course and bought into the message that Hue (Jackson) has been sending," he continued. "We could feel it out there, and I think everybody that was in the stadium could feel the emotion and the energy that the team was putting into the game today.”
Jackson said the win validated what he has been telling his team all season.
“It validates the work, all the hard work that these guys put in," Jackson said. "You have to give them something back. That is what they get back is wins and losses. When you work as hard as this group has to try to win a game and you keep fighting through, it says a lot about our team, our coaches. No one has ever given up. I know sometimes it does not look as good we want to, but we have stuck to it and kept fighting. Just trying to do everything we could to win and that is what you see tonight. It is an opportunity for our guys to do something that we have been trying to do all year, which is win a game, and we were able to do.”
Isaiah Crowell had two touchdown runs for the Browns in the first half, including runs of 8- and 4-yards for scores. Crowell's first touchdown came as an answer to tie the game in the first quarter after the Chargers took a 7-0 lead on their opening possession. Crowell scored for the second time with 12:39 in second quarter to give the Browns a 14-10 lead. It was the fist time the Browns had scored more than one touchdown in six-straight games and first time they led in a game since Nov. 10.
Cody Parkey kicked the first of two field goals, the first from 49-yards out to give the Browns a 17-10 lead with 4:46 to play in the first half. It was the first time the Browns had led at the half since they were up 7-6 over the Ravens on Nov. 10.
The Browns took the second half kickoff and moved 57 yards to the Chargers eight before stalling and settling for a 27-yard field goal by Parkey. The drive started with four-straight plays of 11-,10-, 15- and 22-yards before a false start by Cameron Erving thwarted the drive.
San Diego answered with a touchdown after Jamar Taylor interfered with Antonio Gates in the end zone on third-and-eight to give the Chargers a first down. Rivers hit Tyrell Williams for a one-yard score on third down to make it 20-17 with 6:04 to play in the third quarter, but the Browns were able to make it stand up for the win.
Jackson said the difference between one win and none is big.
“It changes the mood because this is something that we have not had happen," Jackson said. "This is a good feeling, and hopefully, we start to enjoy this feeling. We want to feel good after you play games. That is what it is all about. We have not experienced the euphoria of winning a game. We just did, and I think our guys have to feel good about that and this is the feeling that we want to have week in and week out in our future as we start to move forward.”
RG3 Knocked Out: QB Robert Griffin III was knocked out with 10:50 to play in the game with a concussion. Griffin finished 17-of-25 for 164 yards and a 86.1 rating. He was sacked seven times. He rushed six times for 42 yards. His status for the season finale is not known as he's in the NFL concussion protocol.In relief, QB Cody Kessler was 2-of-3 for 11 yards and a 72.9 rating. He was sacked twice.
Race for No. 1: The win elevated the Browns into a tie with the San Francisco 49ers briefly for the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. However, the 49ers beat the Rams 22-21 to give them two wins on the season. The 49ers play their final with the Seahawks and the Browns play in Pittsburgh. If the two teams are tied, the 49ers currently would get the top pick by virtue of the current strength of schedule tie breaker.
The Rabbit: Former Browns WR Travis Benjamin caught a 50-yard pass from QB Philip Rivers on the first play of the game to set up the Chargers first score as he ran by DB Joe Haden. On the second possession, Rivers opened with a 15-yard pass to Benjamin that resulted in a field goal. Benjamin caught a third down pass for a first down in the second quarter. He finished with three receptions for 75 yards
No Sacks for Browns: The Browns had no sacks on QB Philip Rivers. Meanwhile, the Chargers had nine sacks on Browns QB's, including two by DE Joey Bosa. LB Christian Kirksey led the Browns with nine tackles and DB Ed Reynolds had seven.
Bosa Sack Attack: Former Ohio State start DL Joey Bosa sacked QB Robert Griffin III to end the first half and then picked up his second sack of the game in the third quarter. Bosa has 9.5 sacks in 11 games on the season to lead all rookies. Bosa was called for a personal foul roughing the quarterback as he hit Griffin after a third down incomplete pass that gave the Browns a fresh set of downs.
The Crow: RB Isaiah Crowell had an eight-yard touchdown run for the Browns first score of the game. Crowell scored his second touchdown of the game to give the Browns a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. Crowell had 16 carries for 54 yards and two scores in the first half. Crowell has 800 yards and seven touchdowns on the season and would need 200 yards next week against the Steelers to hit 1,000 yards.
Leader: TE Gary Barnidge led the Browns with five catches for 42 yards.
Pryor's Day: WR Terrelle Pryor caught 3 passes for 36 yards to give him 70 receptions for 913 yards on the season. Pryor needs 87 yards in the final game to hit 1,000 yards.
Haden Down: DB Joe Haden was taken to the locker room with a neck injury in the third quarter and did not return.
Backfires Again: he Browns chose to defer after winning the coin toss and the Chargers went 75 yards in eight plays to take a 7-0 lead on the opening drive with QB Philip Rivers throwing to TE Antonio Gates for a two-yard touchdown. The Browns scored a field goal on their first possession of the second half as K Cody Parkey connected from 27 yards to give the Browns a 20-10 lead.
Jamming Jamar: DB Jamar Taylor drew a personal foul for hitting WR Tyrell Williams out of bounds and giving the Chargers a first down on the Browns 17. An intentional grounding stopped the Chargers drive and K Josh Lambo hit a 43-yard field goal to give San Diego a 10-7 lead with 1:49 left in the first quarter. Taylor intercepted QB Philip Rivers in the second quarter to stop a drive. With 6:43 to play in the third quarter, Taylor interfered with TE Antonio Gates in the end zone on third-and-8 to five the Chargers a first down on the one-yard line. Rivers hit WR Tyrell Williams for a one-yard touchdown to make it 20-17 with 6:04 to play in the third quarter. Taylor had a couple of big break ups down the stretch, including one in the end zone. He had five tackles and three passes broken up, in addition to the interception.
Captain, Captain: OL Joe Thomas, DB Joe Haden, LB Tank Carder, WR Andrew Hawkins, QB Robert Griffin III & LB Demario Davis were the Browns captains.