The Browns hit the jackpot Thursday night in Las Vegas.
Members of the organization were finalists for four awards at NFL Honors. They swept.
Defensive end Myles Garrett was named Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year for the first time in his seven-year career, quarterback Joe Flacco won Comeback Player of the Year, Kevin Stefanski was Coach of the Year for the second time in his four years with the Browns and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was Assistant Coach of the Year.
They were recognized for the individual performances during the Browns’ exciting and surprising season. They went 11-6 and reached the postseason for just the third time since returning to the league in 1999 despite a rash of season-ending injuries, including ones to quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Nick Chubb.
The Browns aspired to be in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl on Sunday but lost 45-14 in Houston in the wild card round of the playoffs.
“I want to thank the Browns organization, y’all believing in me,” Garrett said when accepting the award. “And to the city of Cleveland, this one’s for you. We’re going to bring home something bigger next time.”
The awards, which were voted on by a 50-person media panel at the end of the regular season, were a nice consolation prize.
Garrett had been aiming to be DPOY since he was drafted No. 1 in 2017 but had never received a first-place vote. That changed this year when he got 23 of 50 after leading Cleveland’s No. 1-ranked defense with 14 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, 30 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.
“Hopefully the first of several,” general manager Andrew Berry said. “We see how hard he works every day. He represents our city and our franchise at such a high level. Obviously he’s as dominant as a force as there is in the entire league and we’re so proud.”
Garrett beat out Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who was runner-up. Watt won the award in 2021 and led the league this year with 19 sacks.
Garrett finished with 165 points in the voting, which awards five points for a first-place vote, three for a second and one for a third. Watt got 19 first-place votes and 140 points.
As people in Pittsburgh are quick to point out, he’s the first person in NFL history to not be DPOY after totaling at least 19 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 36 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
The Browns are glad to break with tradition and never wavered in their belief Garrett deserved to win. Garrett hugged and thanked his family.
“Myles Garrett, I’m running out of superlatives for him,” Stefanski said. “That’s what Defensive Player of the Year looks like. What we saw week in and week out, his work at practice, what he provides to this team as a leader.”
Flacco’s win was a stunner, as Bills safety Damar Hamlin had been the heavy betting favorite throughout the season. Hamlin collapsed on the field during a game last season, his heart stopped and he needed to be resuscitated. He played five games this season off the bench and made two tackles.
Hamlin got the most first-place votes with 21, but Flacco had 151 points to Hamlin’s 140 on the strength of 13 first-place votes and 26 second-place votes. Eight people didn’t vote for Hamlin in the top three.
Flacco had said he wasn’t sure what he was coming back from. He wanted to continue his career for a 16th season but remained unsigned when Watson was lost for the season with a broken bone in his shoulder. The Browns signed Flacco to the practice squad Nov. 20 and he led them on a magical ride.
He started five regular-season games, winning four straight as the Browns clinched a playoff berth. He threw for 1,616 yards and 13 touchdowns and inspired the team and Northeast Ohio.
“I want to say thank you to my teammates just for welcoming me in that locker room at that point of the year,” Flacco said. “I want to say thank you to the organization for just giving me the opportunity to do what I love to do, and that’s play football. And I want to say thank you to the city just for making me and my family feel at home for a couple months. Truly special.”
He helped save the season at 38 years old.
“From the couch into the starting lineup,” Stefanski said. “It was fun for me to watch and I had a pretty good view of it all. What he was able to do on the field and off the field was really remarkable.”
TWO’S BETTER THAN ONE
Stefanski’s career winning percentage is .552 (37-30), best of the expansion era and fifth in the history of the organization. He’s 2-for-4 in winning Coach of the Year.
This one came by the closest of margins. He and Houston’s DeMeco Ryans tied with 165 points, but Stefanski had 21 first-place votes to Ryans’ 20.
Presenter and TV star Justin Hartley mistakenly called Stefanski “Steven” before correcting himself. Stefanski didn’t attend the program.
“We are so lucky to have Kevin as a leader of our organization,” Berry said. “What he’s been able to navigate throughout the first four years here has been nothing short of remarkable. Battling all the adversity that we had this season and guiding us to another playoff appearance is just phenomenal.”
In addition to overcoming the injuries, Stefanski won games with four starting quarterbacks, a first in franchise history.
“I’m honored and I could not do this thing by myself,” he said. “I get incredible support from everyone in this building. Our coaches, our players, our staff. I’m so lucky. I am so blessed.
“And then outside this building with the fans. We have the best fans in the National Football League, the best fans in the world.”
Schwartz taking top assistant was a mild surprise but understandable after he transformed the defense in his first season with the team.
He took over a unit that couldn’t stop the run and struggled with communication and chemistry and turned it into the league’s No. 1-ranked defense. The defense led the league in yards (270.2 per game), passing yards (164.7), third-down conversions (29.1 percent) and first downs (254).
“I’m very grateful for this award,” Schwartz said on the red carpet before the show. “I played a really, really small part in this. The main credit goes to our position coaches and the players. It’s just a great group to work with.”
Schwartz received 25 first-place votes. Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald was runner-up and got 11 first-place votes.
Schwartz helped improve the team’s culture with his aggressive approach and by encouraging his players to celebrate every success and lead the league in “badassery.”
“Just the Schwartz impact on our organization and our team,” Berry said. “And not just what Jim and the defensive staff were able to do with a dominant and historic defense, but in the building his impact spans far beyond just getting the guys ready to play on the field. He’s an incredible organizational partner, an incredible human being, cares about our players, cares about our staff. We are very, very fortunate to have him as a part of our team.”