3 Takeaways from Browns' Week 18 Win

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 10, 2022

3 Takeaways from Browns' Week 18 Win

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    Nick Cammett/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns couldn't reach the playoffs for a second consecutive year. But they did end the 2021 season on a positive note, as they snapped a three-game losing streak with a win in Sunday's finale.

    Playing primarily against the Cincinnati Bengals' backups, the Browns notched a 21-16 victory at FirstEnergy Stadium to finish the season at 8-9. Cleveland scored the first 14 points of the game and never trailed while earning a win over the AFC North champions.

    The Browns' defense fared well against the Bengals, which were playing without quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Joe Mixon and several other key players, most of whom were resting for the postseason. Cleveland limited Cincinnati to 182 total yards and didn't allow an offensive touchdown until there was only two minutes and 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

    Here are three takeaways from the Browns' season-ending Week 18 win.

Johnson Showed What He's Capable of During Regular Season

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    Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

    Because the Browns had already been eliminated from playoff contention heading into Week 18, they didn't give their starters a full workload in the finale of the longest regular season in NFL history. That's why star running back Nick Chubb had only nine carries for 58 yards.

    Instead, Cleveland leaned heavily on backup running back D'Ernest Johnson, who had another impressive showing in rushing for 123 yards on 25 carries and scoring his third touchdown of the season. He got into the end zone on a four-yard run that pushed the Browns' lead to 14-0 with 11:22 to go in the second quarter.

    The 25-year-old had three games this season in which he had more than eight touches, and he amassed more than 100 total yards in each of them. Although he spent much of the year behind Chubb and Kareem Hunt on the depth chart, he played well when he was given opportunities, including in Sunday's game, his first since being activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list.

    "D'Ernest comes in off the couch and performs because that is what he does," Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters. "He did a really nice job fighting for extra yards. I am not surprised. Just a very, very dependable player."

    With his strong play, Johnson proved he may deserve a larger role in 2022, whether that's with Cleveland or another team. He's set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, so it's not a guarantee he'll be back with the Browns.

Clowney Impresses Again to Cap Resurgent Season

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    Nick Cammett/Associated Press

    Jadeveon Clowney's first season with the Browns didn't get off to a great start, but defensive end had an impressive finish. And he reminded everybody what he's capable of when he's healthy in the process.

    After recording two sacks against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17, the 28-year-old notched two more sacks in the win over the Bengals. He ended the season with nine sacks, his most since 2018, when he also had nine with the Houston Texans. It was also a half sack shy of his 2017 career high.

    Clowney played in 14 games for the Browns this season, his most since featuring in 15 with the Texans in 2018.

    "He plays the game very hard. He plays with reckless abandon," Stefanski told the media. "I think he was fortunate in a lot of areas to be healthy."

    Clowney is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and may not be back in Cleveland in 2022. But he's proved he can still be a force on the pass rush, so he could garner plenty of interest.

Browns Enter Offseason with Possible QB Uncertainty

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    Nick Cammett/Associated Press

    Baker Mayfield's disappointing 2021 season ended with him on the sideline all day on Sunday, as he sat out the finale due to a shoulder injury that impacted him for much of the year. He'll undergo surgery later this month and hope to return to form in 2022.

    But what if that doesn't happen? If the 26-year-old remains the Browns' starting quarterback at the beginning of next season and then struggles, could the team look for a different answer at the position?

    Cleveland doesn't have many quarterback options on its current roster. Veteran Case Keenum started on Sunday and went 17-for-24 for 176 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, but the 33-year-old isn't a long-term answer at this point in his career.

    Mayfield passed for 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 14 games this season, a step back from his impressive 2020 campaign. Stefanski said last week he has a "good relationship" with the Oklahoma product, so it's possible he will be back under center to start 2022.

    It's a long offseason, though, and it will be interesting to see how this situation develops and what moves the Browns may consider making before the 2022 season.

    For now, though, Mayfield remains Cleveland's quarterback.