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2021 in review: Taking five — best and worst players and moments from throughout the season

TOP FIVE PLAYERS

  • Myles Garrett, defensive end — A groin injury slowed him in the final month but he played all 17 games and got his 16th sack in the finale, He was more consistent than in years past and was first-team All-Pro for the second straight year. The next step is NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Nick Chubb, running back — He finished second in the league with 1,259 rushing yards despite missing three games, and his 5.5 average ranked in the top five. The Browns rewarded his great play and team-first attitude with a contract extension.
  • Joel Bitonio, left guard — He’s playing his best at 30 years old and has finally gotten the recognition he deserves. He was voted first-team All-Pro for the first time after three years on the second team.
  • Denzel Ward, cornerback — A deserving Pro Bowler who’s about to get rewarded with a contract extension that should pay him close to $20 million a year.
  • Wyatt Teller, right guard — He’s not as consistent as Bitonio and has lapses in pass protection but is a mauler in the run game and should continue to improve.

BOTTOM FIVE PLAYERS

  • Baker Mayfield, quarterback — He’s obviously not the worst player on the roster but he ranked in the bottom third of league passers and came up short in the season’s biggest moments. Better quarterback play would’ve changed the season.
  • Jedrick Wills, left tackle — Others had worse seasons but, like Mayfield, not at such a premium position. He struggled to fight through an ankle injury and needs to play more physically and with greater effort.
  • Jamie Gillan, punter — He didn’t make it through the season. Enough said. Well, he also had a huge blunder in the opening loss, dropping a perfect snap, panicking and not kicking, which set up the Chiefs’ winning touchdown.
  • Rashard Higgins, receiver — He played 15 games but caught just 24 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown. The opportunities were there in a depleted receiving corps, but he couldn’t take advantage and has likely played his final game for the Browns.
  • Andy Janovich, fullback — His impact was nearly nonexistent. He played only 11 percent of the offensive snaps and was largely replaced by a third tight end.

TOP FIVE MOMENTS

  • To the house — Denzel Ward changed the game in Cincinnati on the opening drive, intercepting Joe Burrow’s pass on the 1-yard line and taking it down the sideline for a touchdown. It set the tone for an afternoon of big plays and the best win of the season.
  • Finally — Myles Garrett waited a long time for his first touchdown but he made it a good one. The sequence started with Garrett’s strip-sack of Baltimore’s Tyler Huntley, then when Jadeveon Clowney couldn’t secure the loose ball, Garrett scooped it and rumbled 15 yards into the end zone. The Browns beat the Ravens 24-22.
  • Domination — Garrett led the way in a 26-6 win over the Bears in Week 3 with a franchise-record 4.5 sacks. Clowney added two as six players contributed at least a half-sack and the Browns took down rookie Justin Fields nine times.
  • Gutsy effort — Baker Mayfield’s season changed vs. the Texans in Week 2 when the labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder tore while he tried to make a tackle after throwing an interception. Mayfield was affected by the injury to some degree the rest of the season but he overcame that afternoon. He completed all 10 passes after being checked by doctors and scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown.
  • Huge night — The lone win in prime time came on a Thursday night in October vs. the Broncos. With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt out with injuries, D’Ernest Johnson rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL start.

BOTTOM FIVE MOMENTS

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  • Can’t hold on — Quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Jarvis Landry lost fumbles as they were trying to pass on a Sunday night in Baltimore. In a 16-10 loss, the wasted possessions in Ravens territory were critical. Mayfield’s turnover followed an interception of Lamar Jackson, as the Browns managed only three points off four interceptions.
  • Give it away — Mayfield’s four Christmas interceptions in Green Bay effectively ended the Browns’ playoff chances, as they no longer controlled their fate.
  • One play away — A win over the Raiders on Dec. 20 would’ve sent the COVID-depleted Browns into first place in the AFC North. All they needed late was one more first down, another stop on defense or a missed field goal by the Raiders. They didn’t get any, falling 16-14 on a last-second kick.
  • No way to start — The Browns blew a wonderful chance to send a message to the league in the opener. Nick Chubb fumbled, safety John Johnson III gave up a long touchdown, punter Jamie Gillan dropped a snap and Mayfield was intercepted as the Browns couldn’t hang on for a win in Kansas City.
  • Another late failure — Landry fumbled and dropped two passes over the final two drives in a 15-10 loss to the Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium. The mistakes were typical of the offensive effort all day.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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