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Browns find ways to win with defense, special teams, even a rookie QB

Cleveland Browns quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (17) holds the football in his right hand and his left hand attempts to stop Pittsburgh Steelers safety Damontae Kazee (23) coming at him.
Sue Ogrocki
Cleveland Browns quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (17) tries to avoid Pittsburgh Steelers safety Damontae Kazee (23) during the first half of the Browns victory Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in Cleveland.

The Cleveland Browns keep finding ways to win.

On Sunday, they beat Baltimore with rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, known to fans simply as DTR, replacing Deshaun Watson, who's out for the season with a shoulder injury.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said he would have never believed the team would have a 7-3 record without Watson and star running back Nick Chubb, who’s out with a severe knee injury.

“I mean, this sounds to me like a typical Browns season, you know, the changing quarterbacks and guys are hurt,” Pluto said.

But Pluto said the Browns are playing like a complete team — making big plays on special teams with coordinator Bubba Ventrone, tough defense with veteran coordinator Jim Schwartz and doing just enough on offense with head coach Kevin Stefanski calling the plays.

On special teams, Pluto said kicker Dustin Hopkins has been a difference maker. He’s 26 of 29 on field goals this season, and the last two weeks are the first time since the Browns returned to the league in 1999 that they've won back-to-back games on last-second field goals.

“The Browns have won four games by three or fewer points. Basically, that often comes down to, you make the field goal (or) you miss the field goal when they're that tight. And this guy's been making all the big ones for them,” Pluto said.

The team started DTR at quarterback Sunday over P.J. Walker, who had led the team to two wins while filling in for Watson. DTR had a disastrous debut on October 1 against Baltimore, but the team saw him as the better choice.

“I think P.J. Walker ran out of pockets to hold all his lucky horseshoes,” Pluto said. “Because, I was looking: In his three games, he threw one touchdown pass, five interceptions and he lost two fumbles.”

Pluto said the team believed that a better prepared DTR was a better option for the rest of the season.

“As they went back and looked at, now, it's not just one game, Deshaun Watson is out for the year with shoulder surgery. ‘So, who do we want to play, like, the last nine games? There were all these reasons we liked him. Are we going to throw it all out because he had one bad game against Baltimore where we didn’t prepare him right?’” Pluto said.

Meanwhile, this week the Browns signed veteran free agent quarterback Joe Flacco to the practice squad. The 38-year-old former SuperBowl MVP has an 18-3 record against the Browns, mostly during his 11 seasons in Baltimore. Last season he played for the New York Jets.

“So, they had a meeting. 'If DTR gets hurt, we need another veteran.' The question is, is there anything at all left in that tank? But I believe they feel if an emergency hit, Flacco's played in the league for so long and he's played on different coaches and different offenses that they could put him in there and it would not be an embarrassment. But the goal is to get DTR up and running and playing reasonably well,” Pluto said.

The Browns are in second place in the AFC North, just behind Baltimore (8-3). Pluto again points to the big picture.

“You know, Kevin Stefanski takes a lot of grief or whatever. They have been well coached. It's so easy to focus on the offense and the play calling and miss the big picture of what it takes to win. You know what I like about it? Essentially without Watson, they're an underdog team," he said. "It's just been a nice environment. It's really been, other than whether Deshaun Watson is going to play this week because of his rotator cuff, it’s been drama free."

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