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  3 Big Takeaways: Browns defense does not record a sack for first time this season

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The Browns head home from their West Coast road trip with their first two consecutive losses of the season, as they lost to the Rams 36-19 on Sunday.

"I felt like we had a chance their game got away from us," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "So, we got to look at some things and we've got to find a way to close out that game. Put ourselves in a better position – offense, defense, special teams. We didn't do enough in that game."

Let's look at three takeaways from Sunday's loss.

QB Joe Flacco's first game with the Browns

Over the last two weeks, Flacco has gone from not being on an NFL roster, to signing with the Browns to their practice squad, to starting for the Browns in Week 13. And while he has 16 years of NFL experience to back up his ability to step into the situation, it was still an adjustment to learn the Browns' offense as quickly as possible to be able to call the plays in the huddle on Sunday.

Yet, at the helm of the offense, Flacco proved just want he can contribute. On their opening offensive drive, Flacco moved the Browns down field by connecting with his pass catchers and found RB Jerome Ford for a 24-yard touchdown reception.

However, with all the steadiness through three-and-a-half quarters, the late interception in the fourth quarter that set the Rams up for a touchdown proved hurtful in their chances to win. It led to a spiral on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter that led to the 36-19 loss.

"Obviously, the interception, he's trying to make a play," Stefanski said. "But he did some really good things today and put us in position. We got to come away points – we, the offense, myself – we have to come up with the points."

Flacco finished the game completed 23 of 44 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was also sacked twice in the fourth quarter, with one leading to a safety for the Rams.

Flacco was upset with himself following the game about the interception that he threw that was a pass intended for WR Elijah Moore. He said that the Rams were matched up with everyone, and that he was in the pocket for a long time. He wanted to give Moore a shot, but lost track of the safety.

"It ultimately was just a bad decision," Flacco said. "I was late throwing that pass. […] I was trying to back shoulder him a little bit. I thought I had more space out there, but like I said, when you're in the pocket that long and you're kind of staring that way the whole time, you have to be aware that the safety's floating around back there and you have to be able to make a play like that."

Flacco knows that he can still play at an NFL level, which is why he was disappointed and upset about the thrown interception.

"These are the games that I honestly love to be in," Flacco said. "They come down to the fourth quarter, and they're not pretty and they're going to be tight. I think I excel in the games that are played tight and need to have good decisions to be made. So, to not come through in that kind of situation, it definitely stings a little bit."

Defensive struggles continue on the road trip

For the first time this season, the Browns defense did not record a sack.

They did not take down QB Matthew Stafford, and only forced two quarterback hurries. Stefanski said that the protection from Rams' offensive line held up and allowed Stafford to hold out and find those deep passes – one of which led to a 70-yard touchdown from WR Puka Nacua.

DE Myles Garrett believed it was a combination of factors.

"The quarterback, the offensive line, getting the ball out quick and staying at a nice, level spot in the pocket," Garrett said. "But the way they were moving up front as well, credit to them. Sliding, doubling, keeping us off balance. That allowed them to have success throwing the ball and they weren't often going for bombs. They were trying to get the ball out, get to the playmakers and allow them to do it themselves."

The Browns also only had one tackle for loss and two passes defended. They gave up 279 passing yards and three touchdowns, as well as 120 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. They also did not force a turnover in the game.

The Browns defense struggled on the road for the second consecutive game, after facing veteran QB Russell Wilson and the Broncos in Week 12. They were only able to sack Wilson once and had four quarterback hurries. The Broncos finished with 125 net passing yards and 169 net rushing yards.

However, even with the recent defensive struggles – especially on the road – they are not wavering in their belief as a defense.

"Always feel good about this team," Garrett said. "We know exactly what the mission is. Doesn't change. We got a loss here, but we go right back to the drawing board and get back to work."

WR Elijah Moore stepping up in WR Amari Cooper's absence

After WR Amari Cooper left the game in the second quarter with a head injury after he sustained a hit – and was later ruled out for the remainder of the game with a head injury – WR Elijah Moore stepped up to fill the hole left in Cooper's absence. Moore had one of his best games this season. He finished the game with 12 targets, which led the team. He also had four catches for 83 yards – with his longest reception of the day for 42 yards.

Moore struggled early in the season to consistently establish himself in the passing game but started to find his lane as the season progressed. Heading into Week 13, Moore had 43 catches for 418 yards this season.

Stefanski said that with Cooper going out, Moore stepped into Cooper's role throughout the game. Moore averaged 20.8 yards per catch on Sunday, showcasing the connection he and Flacco had from their time at the Jets together in 2021 and 2022.

"Elijah has a lot of talent, and especially when he can kind of get involved early," Flacco said. "He shows a lot of juice throughout the game."

Stefanski also said following the game that Cooper sustained a concussion on Sunday.

 Game Recap: Cavs at Pistons

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*** After wrapping up a five-game homestand with an ugly loss, the Wine & Gold righted the ship on the road – traveling to Motown and extending the Pistons losing streak to 17 games, pulling away for the 110-101 win on Saturday night. Three Cavaliers starters scored at least 20 points, Jarrett Allen doubled-up to lead both teams in rebounding and Isaac Okoro and George Niang came up big off the bench. Cleveland trailed by seven late in the third, but closed the quarter on a 15-5 run and held the Pistons to just 19 points in the final period. 

*** Coach Bickerstaff praised his squad’s effort, getting its seventh win the last 10 outings. “I think we had individual guys that stepped up in moments that refused to let us lose,” said Bickerstaff. “I mean, Isaac Okoro was unbelievable. He was taking charges, making shots, driving to the basket, scoring. I thought he was awesome when we needed him to be, and that’s who he is. It was ugly, but I thought we did a heck of a job just staying together. When this thing got up and down, instead of splintering apart our group just stuck together, just found a way to get it done.”

*** The Cavaliers extended another Pistons losing streak on Saturday night – running their own win streak over Detroit to seven straight, and now 12 of the last 15. With the victory, Cleveland is now 10-2 over the Central Division since 2022 and now 6-3 on the road this season. 

*** Saturday night marked Darius Garland’s sixth 20-point performance of the season – and the Cavaliers have won all six. On Saturday, the 23-year-old guard scored a team-high-tying 22 points, going 9-for-23 from the floor, including 2-of-7 from deep, adding five assists, three steals and a block. Garland led both teams with 28 points in Cleveland’s win over the Pistons back in mid-November. 

*** Jarrett Allen registered his second straight double-double on Saturday – finishing with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting to go with a team-high-tying 11 rebounds, three assists and a steal. On the season, Allen is shooting .676 from the field – good for 3rd-best in the NBA – and is shooting .804 from the floor (37-of-46) over his last five outings. 

*** Max Strus topped the 20-point plateau for the fifth time this year – tying Garland’s 22 points, going 9-of-16 from the floor, including 4-of-10 from deep, adding five boards, five assists and a steal. It was his 15th game this season with multiple three-pointers. 

*** Only two reserves scored for Cleveland on Saturday, but both performances were huge in the win. Georges Niang brought much-needed feistiness all night and finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, adding three boards and a pair of assists. Isaac Okoro notched all nine of his points after intermission, when he went 4-of-6 from the floor to go with three assists and a pair of steals. The Cavaliers were a team-best +15 when both players were on the floor. 

*** Donovan Mitchell – who scored eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter – praised Okoro’s effort in the much-needed victory. “I think outside of the plus/minus you don’t really see what (Okoro) does on the box score: the charges he takes, being able to get those stops, really setting the tone for us. He hit a big three coming down, (got) into the lane and (created) shots. So, it’s good to see, just for us to continue to build.”

*** Now that the In-Season Tournament finalists have been settled, the Cavaliers will return to play the Magic at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Wednesday before hitting the road for the longest trip of the month – and it’s a tough one – heading to Miami for a Friday night meeting with the Heat followed by a quick rematch with the Magic and wrapping up with a pair in Beantown next Tuesday and Thursday. The combined record of those three teams is currently 40-18.

 Deion Sanders is Sports Illustrated’s 2023 Sportsperson of the Year 

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On Thursday (11-30-23), Sports Illustrated (SI) revealed Deion Sanders, the University of Colorado Buffaloes head football coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer, as the 2023 Sportsperson of the Year.

Sanders’s blend of unparalleled athletic accomplishments and transformative impact on the football program, school, and community of Boulder transcends sports and ripples throughout the culture.

Over the past year, “Coach Prime” rebuilt Colorado, turning a team that won one game in 2022 into one of the country’s most popular programs and biggest audience draws. Online team store sales have skyrocketed, and every home game at Folsom Field saw a sold-out crowd for the first time in school history, boasting record-setting viewership.

Off the field, the Prime Effect was felt in the Colorado admissions office—first-year, Black, and nonresident applications have all surged at the school—and in the Boulder community, where football success has sparked an economic boom for local businesses.

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