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Andrew Berry draws inspiration, motivation from Lions’ long-awaited home playoff success

The Lions winning a pair of playoff games in Detroit to advance to the NFC Championship Game resonated with Browns general manager Andrew Berry.

“Seeing the energy in the stadium, seeing the team feed off of it,” he said Monday in his end-of-season news conference. “It’s been pretty cool to watch just, honestly, as an NFL fan.”

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The Lions’ success also started Berry down a path.

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“It got me thinking: What’s it going to look like or sound like or feel like when we are hosting a home playoff game here in Cleveland? What’s the energy going to be feeding into the week? What’s it going to sound like on the opening kickoff?” he said. “And as I thought a little bit more about it this weekend, I thought probably the closest parallel to that would’ve been our last home game against the Jets this year. I think about that night and how much it meant for me, really our entire organization, our city, our fan base.”

The 37-20 victory over the Jets on Dec. 28 clinched a playoff spot for the Browns at 11-5. Their season ended with a 45-14 wild card loss at Houston on Jan. 13.

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The Lions went 12-5 to win the NFC North and take the No. 3 seed in the NFC. They beat the Rams in the wild card round for their first playoff win since January 1992, then beat Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers on Sunday in the divisional round.

The Browns haven’t hosted a playoff game since the 1994 season, when they beat the Patriots before losing at Pittsburgh in the second round. Under the current format, a division title is the only way to guarantee hosting a playoff game, and the Browns have never won the AFC North, which was formed in 2002.

Making it to the postseason as a wild card for the second time in four years, and second under coach Kevin Stefanski, is undoubtedly a significant step in the right direction for the Browns, who have three playoff appearances and one win since returning to the league in 1999. The work is nowhere close to done.

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“We look at everything that we did A to Z on the field, off the field with the goal of improvement,” Berry said, “and it’s really not just improvement, but positioning the organization in a way where we can have our first home playoff game in 29 years, where we can consistently produce playoff teams and deep runs. And ultimately the goal is to bring the franchise its first Super Bowl.

“So all the decisions moving forward will be with that goal in mind, and at times that may lead to hard and uncomfortable decisions. We owe it to our fans. We owe it to the city. We owe it to the players, coaches and staff in the organization. That’s really our fiduciary responsibility.”

The enduring story of the season was the ability to overcome serious injuries to several key players. Running back Nick Chubb, quarterback Deshaun Watson and tackles Jedrick Wills Jr., Jack Conklin and Dawand Jones were among those who had season-ending surgeries, and the Browns started five quarterbacks, winning games with a franchise-record four.

A congratulatory text after the Jets game from mentor Tom Telesco, the former Chargers GM, meant a lot to Berry.

“‘Your team had every excuse available to you to be a 10-loss team and your players, coaches and staff never flinched,’” Berry said. “It was really cool to me to see that there were people externally that had saw, felt what we all had internally on a week-to-week basis with this team.”

The abrupt ending to the season in Houston still stings, especially as teams like the Lions move closer to the Super Bowl. But Berry was left with a memory “seared into my mind” that he believes bodes well for the future. Left guard Joel Bitonio returned to the game after leaving with a serious high ankle sprain, and right guard Wyatt Teller played through a calf strain that had him in a walking boot the next day.

“I remember in that moment thinking that’s pretty cool,” Berry said. “Because here are two of our veteran players, there’s really nothing to play for competitively because we really don’t have enough time to come back. But they realized in that moment that was the last time that that specific group was going to play together forever. And all they wanted to do was be out there with their teammates for this player moment.

“And one of the things I wrote down in my OneNote moving forward was, ‘I think we have something here. I think we have something here with this group of players and some of the guys who are going to return.’ And that visual is going to be the thing that motivates me this offseason to do everything that I can to improve the team and make sure that we’re in a position playing deep into the playoffs next year.”

That won’t be easy.

The AFC is loaded with teams with more playoff experience and elite quarterbacks, including Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, who will face off Sunday in the conference title game.

“We realize how competitive it is and it’s a big reason why as we look forward every decision has to be made with the understanding that we play a zero-sum game, you either win or you lose,” Berry said. “And we want to best position our organization to be playing deep into the playoffs because if we’re going to reach our goals, we’re going to have to beat the Patrick Mahomes of the worlds and it’s not going to get any easier anytime soon.”

As encouraging as this season was, Berry emphasized it doesn’t guarantee anything for 2024 or beyond, and may not even be a first step toward the ultimate destination.

“One of the traps that organizations can fall into is, OK, here’s where we were at the end of the year, that’s going to be our baseline level of the roster going to next season,” he said. “We don’t really look at it that way. We try and remove ourselves from the emotion of the season, take an objective analysis of it and then really project moving forward.”

In the aftermath of the season the organization will talk “in depth” about how far it is from winning the Super Bowl, but Berry didn’t want to share his feelings on the subject.

“Next year is a brand new year,” he said. “How many people picked the Texans to be in the divisional round this year realistically? So we’ll attack 2024 with a fresh perspective because I don’t know that this year is really going to factor into next year.”

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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