Browns choke against Saints in a fitting metaphor for this season

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CLEVELAND — It was destined to end this way.

Christmas Eve. Temperatures below zero. A largely nothing game. Give a little hope. Go down the stretch. End your playoff hopes.

At the end of the day, it’s only fitting that this is how Cleveland’s slim playoff hopes (less than 1% going into Saturday’s game) are erased, with a 17-10 loss to New Orleans.

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The Browns have been inconsistent since the start of this season.

On more than one occasion, I’ve written that it looked like the Cleveland identity for most of 2022 was waiting for the return of Deshaun Watson, as he missed the first 11 games due to allegations of sexual misconduct and violation of the company’s personal conduct policy. turns on.

But at the start of the season, it was the defense that was surprisingly where most of Cleveland’s problems lay – there and special teams, the units that were supposed to carry this team in Watson’s absence. Early in the season, there were major miscommunications in the secondary. So it was clear that the Browns were likely to get hit on the ground up front. As a result, when Watson returned in Week 13 against the Texans, Cleveland gave him a 4-7 record.

When Watson returned though, needing to get his sea legs under him, it was clear he would need time to adjust, to play like the top QB in this league that the Browns thought he was when they traded him.

But the problems ran deeper than the quarterback. He couldn’t be the band-aid that magically fixes the other season problems the Browns had.

Against the Saints on Saturday, the Browns looked poised to walk away with a win after taking a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. Watson looked good despite the cold weather, and the Browns were eating time off the clock.

It looked like the Browns would be able to defeat New Orleans in the rush game, but instead it was the other way around as the Ghost of Christmas Past returned to haunt Cleveland.

The Saints got on the board with a Will Lutz field goal just before halftime. Then the front of the defense was utterly brutalized by Saints utility Taysom Hill early in the third quarter. He ran for an 8-yard TD on New Orleans’ first drive to tie the game at the 9:40 mark of the quarter.

Alvin Kamara also spent the afternoon, finishing with 76 rushing yards on 20 carries, and rushed for a 4-yard TD late in the third quarter that gave New Orleans a 17-10 lead.

Watson and company did their best to make some heroics happen.

With less than a minute to go, Watson made back-to-back plays of 14 and 18 yards to David Bell and Amari Cooper, respectively, to reach the Saints’ 15-yard line. But then, the quarterback threw three straight incompletions, including a ball that Donovan Peoples-Jones failed to corner as it was pushed out of the corner of the end zone and a ball that hit David Njoku in the chest. Watson was sacked by New Orleans defensive end Carl Granderson to end the drive and game.

Given this year’s inconsistencies, it’s fitting that the Browns’ playoff hopes end early and this way.

For most of the year, it looked like the Browns were waiting for Watson, waiting for next year. Now they get their wish.

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