The fun had to end at some point. Unfortunately for the Cleveland Browns, it ended in the Wild Card Round as they were handed a lopsided loss by the Houston Texans. A game that started with a few punts turned into a shootout and then a blowout as the Texans went from trailing 14-10 to leading 45-14 in the blink of an eye.
As has been the case for much of the season, the Cleveland defense didn't travel well. They gave up 24 points in the first half and it could have been more. In addition to the 76-yard touchdown surrendered to Brevin Jordan, the Browns almost gave up a 59-yarder to Nico Collins — who already had a 15-yard score.
With Cleveland trailing 17-14, Collins found himself wide open but C.J. Stroud overthrew him. The Browns were unable to make good on that positive swing of momentum and Dalton Schultz wound up scoring to make it 24-14 at the half.
In the third quarter, the Browns continued to dig their hole when Joe Flacco threw a gut-wrenching pick-six on their first possession. Steven Nelson, who got away with a blatant pass interference in the first half, hauled in an ill-advised pass from Flacco and ran it back 82 yards for the score.
Flacco tried to respond on the next series but again, threw another touchdown to the wrong team. This time, it was linebacker Christian Harris who intercepted a fourth-down pass and ran it back 36 yards to seal the game.
Browns should hold their heads high despite defeat
It's never fun to lose a game, especially in the postseason. For the Browns, this loss meant their magical year ended in the first round of the playoffs. There will be frustration because of that and a temptation to call this season a failure.
That's not the case, however. Despite suffering this defeat, the Browns should be incredibly proud of what they accomplished in 2023. Despite losing Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett, Jack Conklin, Jed Wills, Maurice Hurst, and Grant Delpit to the IR, they still won 11 games.
Cleveland became the first team to ever make the postseason despite starting five different quaterbacks. They even secured at least one win with four of those signal-callers.
Most importantly, they were able to get a lot of their younger guys some valuable experience. Fourth-round pick Dawand Jones proved he's a starter in this league and Ronnie Hickman went from an undrafted free agent to one of the best rookie safeties in the NFL. To sum it up, this loss hurts bad but the future is still bright in Cleveland. And these guys should be praised for what they accomplished.