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David Njoku apologizes after late drop — just one of many blown chances for Browns

CLEVELAND — David Njoku and the Browns were once again left to wonder what could have been.

Cleveland watched another early lead slip away as New Orleans rallied from a 10-point deficit for a 17-10 win at FirstEnergy Stadium on Saturday, eliminating the Browns from playoff contention.

Saints 17, Browns 10: Cleveland eliminated from playoff contention after wasting early lead

But in the final minute, the Browns had four chances from the Saints 15-yard line to flip the script. One of them bounced off Njoku’s shoulder near the goal line, a perfectly placed throw from quarterback Deshaun Watson that bounded away along with Cleveland’s chance to tie or take the lead.


Njoku was asked if the cold, windy conditions made it difficult to catch.

“I mean, yeah, but that’s no excuse,” Njoku said. “I dropped that ball. I feel like I let the team down myself, personally. I’ve got to own up to that and I am. That’s what happened. We’ve got to get better. Myself, I’ve got to get better.”

Deshaun Watson struggles in elements, laments missed opportunities

He went so far as to apologize to Watson.

“Yeah, he came by the locker,” Watson said. “It was just a missed opportunity, but stuff like that happens. Next time, we will be sure to capitalize on it. You have respect for Dave and everything he brings to this team and this organization. That just shows how much he really cares about it, too. We will just continue to grow from it and learn from these missed opportunities to take advantage of it.”

Notes: Jack Conklin ‘couldn’t be more happy’ to stay with Browns after contract extension

Njoku was far from the only person to leave a play on the field, as Watson completed just 15 of his 31 pass attempts. The quarterback sailed what could have been a touchdown to receiver Amari Cooper early in the fourth quarter, and later in the quarter missed Donovan Peoples-Jones on a fourth-down attempt.

“It is tough,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Obviously as you know, it is not ideal conditions, but our guys, they hold themselves to a high standard. We expect to make plays.”

Cooper caught six passes on 10 targets for 72 yards, allowing him to reach the 1,000-yard mark on the season. Cleveland’s star wide receiver came up with two clutch third-down grabs on the final drive to help the Browns get into the red zone.

But he also had a key drop in the back of the end zone during the second quarter, costing the Browns four points. Watson had all day to throw and Cooper took advantage of the extended time by cutting back to the empty space in the middle of the end zone. Watson saw him and delivered, but Cooper slipped as the ball arrived and couldn’t haul it in. Cleveland settled for a 30-yard field goal to go up 10-0 with 4:07 left in the first half.

Cooper has yet to catch a touchdown pass from Watson, who made his fourth start since returning from an 11-game suspension. Cooper’s last touchdown came five games ago when he scored two against Buffalo on Nov. 20.

“We can be a lot better and we will be a lot better, trust me,” Cooper said. “It’s not even close, trust me, we’ll be a lot better. You never know what the future holds, what tomorrow holds, you can only be where your feet are, and 2023 is close, but it’s far. Especially the 2023 season.

“If I had to think about it, I’d say with me and him together next year, both of us healthy and starting the season, it could be something great.”


Contact Chris Sweeney at 440-329-7135 or Follow him @csweeney1686 on Twitter.


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