In Week 15, the Cleveland Browns hosted the Chicago Bears in what was one of their ugliest games of the year. Mistakes plagued the offense and they gave up two touchdowns following turnovers. Despite this, they somehow improved to 9-5 on the year with a fortunate 20-17 win over the Bears.
For the first time in three starts, Joe Flacco didn't lead the Browns offense downfield for a touchdown on their opening drive. Instead, they had to punt after gaining just 19 yards. They got the ball back in a hurry but again, it was a short possession as they gained just eight yards on a three-and-out.
Both offenses continued to exchange punts throughout the first quarter in what was a rather sloppy start to the game. Chicago even had a chance to break a huge play late in the first quarter when Justin Fields hit Robert Tonyan downfield for what would have been a 73-yard touchdown but he dropped the ball.
The sloppiness continued in the second quarter when Flacco threw a pick that gave Chicago the ball at the one-yard line. There were then several penalties, mostly from Cleveland, but the Bears still managed to score a touchdown to go up 7-0. This score came on an impressive scramble drill from Fields.
Cleveland answered with a long drive of their own, led by a 42-yard gain from Amari Cooper. There was even a gutsy fourth-down conversion from Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The drive ended with a two-yard pass to David Njoku — on what was arguably the most impressive catch of his career.
An interception on the final play of the half from Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (which might be changed to an incompletion later) ensured the Bears wouldn't put up more points in the first 30 minutes. They had been moving the ball and were on the edge of field goal range but elected to try a Hail Mary and JOK came down with the ball even though it clearly hit the turf.
Browns second-half starts poorly
Cleveland's defense forced a three-and-out to start the third quarter but then disaster struck again. Flacco hit Cedric Tillman on a short pass but when the rookie was hit, the ball bounced in the air and landed in the arms of Tremain Edmunds. Chicago's linebacker ran it back 45 yards for a pick-six and the Browns were in trouble.
They couldn't even capitalize on a huge turnover on special teams. Mohamoud Diabate recovered a muffed punt, giving them the ball on their own 20-yard line. Again, the offense turned it over as Flacco was picked off on the first play by Tyrique Stevenson. It appeared Flacco had Njoku for another touchdown but the corner made a diving catch to give the Bears the ball back late in the third — while looking to add to a 17-7 lead.
Cleveland Browns find fourth-quarter success
Cleveland's defense got them the ball back thanks to a huge fourth-down tackle from Cam Mitchell. Once they had the ball, Flacco made his best throw of the night, hitting Marquise Goodwin for 57 yards. They settled for a field goal but it was now 17-10 with just over 12 minutes to play.
Jim Schwartz' unit continued to rise to the occasion and forced yet another punt to give the Browns a shot at tying the game. Flacco, who has had a lot of success late in games in this stadium kept rolling. This time, he hit Amari Cooper for a 51-yard touchdown to tie the game.
A three-and-out ensued which gave Flacco and the offense the ball with just under two minutes to play. Flacco, who had 25 career game-winning drives in the final quarter, got to work and got the job done. He hit Njoku for gains of 31 and 34 yards — the second coming on third-and-17. The drive covered 63 yards on eight plays and ended with a 34-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins — AKA Mr. Automatic.
Chicago got the ball back with no timeouts and 32 seconds left to play and the scares weren't over for Cleveland yet. A Hail Mary nearly went for a touchdown as Darnell Mooney had the ball in his hands but it bounced into the air and D'Anthony Bell grabbed it to secure the win.
Several players stood out but this win couldn't have happened without Njoku who finished with 104 yards and a touchdown on 10 receptions. Most importantly, he almost single-handedly moved them into scoring range to win the game with his impressive final drive.