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Notes: Run defense rebounds with solid performance in win over Bucs

The run defense finally took a stand.

After allowing at least 160 rushing yards in five of the previous seven games, the Browns limited the Buccaneers to 96 yards on 20 carries Sunday in the 23-17 overtime win.

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“Like we have talked about all along, sometimes it is not real complicated,” coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday. “We ran a lot of fronts, a lot of pressures and a lot of coverages that we have run in the past, and the guys just played with incredible effort and relentless in setting the edge and getting off blocks. You saw a bunch of guys running to the football and tackling well.

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“Guys fit their gaps, did their job and got the runner on the ground.”

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Rookie Rachaad White had a 35-yard run on Tampa Bay’s opening drive, but after that the Browns held the Bucs to 54 yards on 18 carries.

“Like I said last week, it just comes down to desire, want-to, execution,” defensive end Myles Garrett said after the game. “Coming down with a head full of steam and wanting to meet that guy in the hole. D-line, we feel like we’re gonna be there, we’re gonna knock the line back. The linebackers, they’re gonna come downhill and make those hits.

“It’s all about just being on the same page because at the end of the day, if you want to be there for your brother and you have that desire to go down there and make that play regardless of who’s showing him up in the hole, who’s opposing you, that’s all run defense is.”

The performance was part of the team’s rally from two straight losses and six in the last seven games.

“It was a good opportunity for us to show, like Coach said, when you hit adversity it’s a time that you can come back,” linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said. “Setbacks are opportunities for comebacks. That’s what we did when we had an opportunity. It’s all about gratitude, teammates and us buying in.”

Safety John Johnson III called holding the Bucs below 100 rushing yards “super important.”

“You just look at the fact that the losses we had, the teams established the run game and went to it early and often,” he said. “And that didn’t happen today. It became a passing game and I think we got the guys on the backend to hang in there with just about anybody in the league. So it was good for us.”

THE CATCH

The pass didn’t go to receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, so he had a great view of tight end David Njoku’s tying touchdown catch with 32 seconds left.

“I had the best seat in the house, and I was on the field at the same time,” Peoples-Jones said. “It was an amazing catch, ball placement was excellent, where only he could get it. He went up and I saw the one hand and it happened in slo-mo. I couldn’t believe it.”

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Without Njoku’s fourth-down heroics, the Browns would’ve lost, fallen to 3-8 and been all but mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

“That’s what makes our job truly special,” Peoples-Jones said. “It is truly a game of inches and that play showcased how true that statement is.”

INJURY REPORT

Garrett struggled to lift his left arm following the game after the shoulder injury had been aggravated. He still played 65 of 69 defensive snaps and said he plans to keep fighting through the pain, but Stefanski was asked about possibly giving him a week off to help the injury heal.

“With any decision like that, you are always making sure you are protecting the players and making smart decisions, talking to the medical professionals and those type of things,” he said. “I don’t know that is what is going to happen here. He is continuing to battle through what all of our guys are battling through, which is not feeling 100 percent.”

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Cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. was impressed by Garrett, who had 1.5 sacks, including one in overtime to set up the winning drive.

“Myles, he’s the ultimate competitor,” he said. “He’s going to give it everything he’s got every time he steps on the field. And that’s a guy that I want to go to war with and play behind and battle with. He turned it on and he made some great stops for our defense that we needed.”

** Cornerback Greg Newsome II (concussion) missed the last two games but is “trending in the right direction,” according to Stefanski, who didn’t know if he’d been cleared from the protocol.

** Cornerback A.J. Green, who replaced Newsome in the slot in the nickel package, is in the concussion protocol after exiting the game in the second quarter.

PLEASANT SURPRISE

The special teams have been a huge disappointment this year, but besides a missed 39-yard field goal by Cade York, they were an asset vs. the Bucs. Peoples-Jones averaged 15 yards on five punt returns, including a 29-yarder, and Jerome Ford had a 44-yard kickoff return.

“Our special teams were outstanding yesterday, and we didn’t on offense do enough with some of that field position, but it was a field position game,” Stefanski said. “I was really proud of Donovan. He got north-south. He made people miss. It is nice to have him in those weather games. The wind is blowing and the rain is coming, and you have a ton of confidence in him — he has done it so often.

“Jerome, he is a pretty good returner. He has shown that he has vision, he has speed and he is definitely a threat for our team.”

MAKING A CONTRIBUTION

Receiver Anthony Schwartz scored a 31-yard touchdown on a reverse, added a 17-yard catch and contributed on special teams, serving as a gunner and making a tackle. The Browns hope it’s a breakthrough after struggles for much of the year.

“I am really proud of him,” Stefanski said. “He helped us win. He is doing a great job as our gunner.

“Anthony played at a very high level, we have a ton of confidence in him and I think he will continue to help this team win.”

EXTRA POINTS

The Browns went with more three-receiver sets, as rookie wideout David Bell played 50 of 79 offensive snaps and Schwartz 11.

** Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoa played 66 snaps at linebacker, Sione Takitaki 50, Deion Jones 20 and Tony Fields II 16.

** Tackle Myron Cunningham was signed to the practice squad, tackle Will Holden was placed on the practice squad injured list and receiver/returner Chester Rogers was waived from the practice squad.

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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