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Hair of the Dog, Week 16: Cleveland Browns @ Houston Texans

The return rematch nobody saw coming, and one that no Houston fan wants to ever revisit.

Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Happy Holidays (or at the time of this publication, Happy Boxing Day/First Day of Kwanzaa). Hope your Christmas (if that is your thing, we take all types here) was a wonderous, happy day. Anyway, during this holiday season, you probably came across some version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. For the most part, the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge the happiest of memories, with the Ghost of Christmas Future offering the scariest/darkest visions.

Yet, on this Christmas Eve, it was the The Ghost of the Past that showed the darkest images. In a rematch of the 2014 duel between Case Keenum and Joe Flacco, Joe Flacco came out ahead big time. Texans fans got a glimpse of the team’s performance from the recent past (i.e. the 2020-2022 years), where the Browns were up 36-7 into the 4th quarter. The defense, depleted by significant injuries, was unable to effectively pressure Flacco and Browns’ receiver Amari Cooper had a game for the ages. The offense, lacking CJ Stroud, Tank Dell and Tytus Howard, got nothing going until garbage time. The Spirit of the Future for the Texans is looking great, but we are not completely removed from the dark days.

As always, your Battle Red Blog Masthead had their real time takes on the game. Given how the game went, we had more than our fair share of not suitable for work language. In the accepted, Dickensian traditions of Hair of the Dog, we have replaced those words with something a bit more suitable for the season and/or the workplace when you return to it.

With that, on with the ‘Dog:

HAIR OF THE DOG VOL 21, ISSUE 16, CLEVELAND BROWNS @ HOUSTON TEXANS (Or, a return matchup, just not the one you were originally expecting)

vballretired

Okay, I can’t take Bartesian on the road. It’s that whole drinking and driving thing. Cheers to Marc and Andre on the radio feed as the Vball clan travels to Louisiana and then the land of the mouse for these next two games. Pictures to come.

Patrick

Inactive players. No big surprises here.

Joe

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!

This game has been making me nervous all month, and now with Stroud out, I’m really nervous. A loss in this game wouldn’t technically eliminate Houston from playoff contention, but it would dramatically lower their chances of making it. But, you know what, Case Keenum helped us evade disaster last week, he can do it again against his former team this week. Nico Collins is here, Dalton Schultz is here, man it would be sweet to have Tank Dell right now but we can work with this. If they can just hold Joe freaking Flacco to mediocre numbers, they can win. But, regardless of what happens today, I’m going to try and embrace the result since it’s been such a miraculous season up to this point. If the road ends here, so be it, but I certainly hope it’s not

Also I get this game on the actual tv this week so I won’t be 30 seconds behind the whole time

Kenneth L.

Sitting at on my couch, watching the Texans

Patrick

Texans win the toss, will defer.

1ST QUARTER: CLE POSSESSION

Kenneth L.

Let’s ride boys

l4blitzer

Right now, our playoff odds are at 50%. Who would have thought coming into this game at the start of year we would be in that position?

Hmmm…could do without that kickoff return…

Could also do without that pass play…

Kenneth L.

Good lord

I knew I should have started Amari Cooper

l4blitzer

…and the Browns take a TO. We got a strange game brewing

Good pass coverage on 85. That’s Flacco’s favorite target since he started

FORD WITH THE 4 YD TD RUN: CLE 7 - HOU 0; 13:18, 1st

l4blitzer

They got away with a successful Wild-Cat/Wild-Brown

Kenneth L.

Couldn’t be a worse start

l4blitzer

FWIW, we gave up the opening drive TD last week…still, not how you want to start this game with that defense getting a quick lead

HOU POSSESSION

l4blitzer

Pierce on kickoff returns…interesting

GLORY TO ALL PENALTY OFFENSE

Mills as a running QB? Oooookkkkaaayyyyy

Tunsil False Start Count: 1

CLE POSSESSION

Patrick

Guess it was a good thing I was stuck at Target.

l4blitzer

Greenard is out for now

Patrick

Of course he is, what’s one more injury amirite?

Oh you’ve gotta be kidding me, defense.

l4blitzer

That textbook slow start to the 1st quarter continues

Patrick

Finally a break.

OH COME ON.

Withdrawn.

l4blitzer

Well, if Cleveland wants to derp, don’t interfere

HOU POSSESSION

Patrick

Let’s try this again, shall we?

Okay, American Hero Case Keenum, get to work.

l4blitzer

Might I suggest shelving the Davis Mills as Jeff Driskel package?

Patrick

Put it on a shelf, destroy the blueprint, lock up the warehouse and burn it all to the ground.

l4blitzer

Then chemically destroy the ashes. Liquidate the individuals who did the previous destruction, just to be sure…

Derrick Henry with 22 yards rushing already. Amazing what he can do when he doesn’t play our defense.

Patrick

Soooooooooooooo much better!

Oh [KITTEN] you ref.

[DURGA][KITTEN] Scruggs.

Kenneth L.

Scruggs sucks. There I said it

l4blitzer

Hmmmm….Scruggs. Not the start we need here dude.

Kenneth L.

We can’t draft offensive lineman

Patrick

We used to be able to, but man we’ve whiffed a lot lately.

Joe

Come on, case Keenum! Pleeeeaseee

Patrick

Joe, please tell me Scruggs gets better from here.

Joe

Welp

He better I loved him in college

He has to

Also Jarrett Patterson was pretty good till he got hurt

So even if Scruggs is a bust we got insurance on him

l4blitzer

I am not sure why we are doing this QB rotation thing?

Kenneth L.

Did Davis mills just jump pass

Patterson was my guy so I give him a pass

CLE POSSESSION

Joe

They’re trying to get that Lovie smith Christmas spice that we got last year!

Patrick

Collins was going to need a rocket up his [KITTEN] to grab that ball.

Kenneth L.

My [DURGA] what was the protection there

l4blitzer

All 3 phases of the game off to a slllloooowwwww start. Tell me this is just us increasing the drama?

Patrick

You can’t have drama if you don’t get a manic fourth quarter comeback to engineer.

l4blitzer

…and the defense continues the slow start against the pass….good throw, but still

vballretired

Why can’t this team draft a half way decent lineman?

Patrick

Once upon a time we could.

I miss those days.

Who was the last good OL we drafted? Was it Tytus Howard?

I’m not counting Green, Scruggs or Patterson because it’s just too soon to tell with them.

l4blitzer

Hey, we forced a punt. Maybe the D is coming around…maybe

Patrick

One can only hope.

HOU POSSESSION

vballretired

My [KITTEN] XM feed is only giving me the Cleveland announcers

Patrick

You must have found the Browns feed.

Channel 228 on SiriusXM.

vballretired

Not working

Patrick

Well [KITTEN].

l4blitzer

Jets really taking it to the Commanders. Sheesh. Rivera may be unemployed before the end of the calendar year.

Is that 3 flags on Emerson already?

Patrick

I think you’re right.

Oh, nope, TV says his second.

Where’s the flag?

l4blitzer

Ok. thought CLE had 3 defensive holding penalties, but ah well.

Patrick

They do have three penalties but for Emerson that’s his second.

l4blitzer

Got it

Your daily offensive off-side penalty on a Texans WR

Patrick

So...many...penalties...

Joe

Well that was a crummy first quarter

END OF 1st: CLE 7 - HOU 0 - Refs 7

Patrick

Robert Woods doing his Kadarious Toney impression.

2ND QUARTER

Joe

Let’s go with the Davis mills qb sneak on 4th and 4

CLE POSSESSION

Patrick

This really is the all penalty offense.

l4blitzer

While tempting to see, we might actually want to win this game.

Our margins are so small, hence any penalty just kills momentum

Patrick

I’m not saying it’s a smart system, but it is technically a system.

l4blitzer

Carolina actually scored an honest-to-Durga TD. New contest, who gets sacked 1st: Rivera or Joe Barry for the Packers?

Joe

santa greg newsome lol

Patrick

Joe Barry. Assistant coaches have been dropping like flies this season. Rivera is a dead coach walking but he’ll get to Black Monday.

Joe

I think i agree with this

I’d like to see a few big possessions for sheldon rankins here, he’s been saving us in some of the last few games

oh no!!!!

Patrick

Oh [DURGA].

FLACCO TO COOPER FOR THE 75 YD TD: CLE 14 - HOU 0; 12:04, 2nd

Patrick

Get yourself a secondary that can simultaneously draw a pass interference penalty AND give up the deep touchdown.

Grape job defense.

l4blitzer

Ross on Cooper…yeah, if I’m Cleveland, I’m milking that matchup for all it is worth.

Well, we are also down 2 TDs last week at TEN/OIL. Granted, Cleveland has a way better defense, but now would be a good time to try to get some points.

Joe

AAAAAA

DAMEON PIERCE ON THE KICK OFF RETURN!!!

l4blitzer

That’ll do, Pierce. That’ll do.

Joe

he just saved the day!!!

oh my goodness

Patrick

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHOIRHWN;VLWKRGNYE;ROVIEJRF;ERGOIGN

PIERCE WITH THE 98 YD KICK RETURN TD: CLE 14 - HOU 7; 11:51, 2nd

l4blitzer

Frank Ross will not be denied.

CLE POSSESSION

Patrick

Dameon Pierce, YOU are the new Texans return man.

Man, oh, man did they need that.

Joe

you’re right about that!

already holding on cleveland!

see even the refs are feeling the momentum shift

l4blitzer

Just in case you forgot about the refs in all the excitement…

Patrick

Oh we have to remember the zebras.

Joe

hahaha

3rd down!!!

alright!!! a punt!!!

Patrick

Wow, I am way behind.

l4blitzer

Hey…good things happen when you don’t give up the big pass play

HOU POSSESSION

Patrick

Put Pierce back out [KITTEN]!

Joe

hahaha

l4blitzer

Pierce doesn’t really have the punt return profile. Kick return…uh, yeah…punt…maybe not.

Detroit Detroiting in a game to clinch the division

Patrick

I would hate every single person in that room in that Grey Goose ad. Like picking a fight with all the hipsters level of hate.

l4blitzer

…or not…maybe Detroit is actually good enough to get the breaks

Hey, putting Stingley on Cooper…that’s a good plan. Stick with it

Joe

another 3rd and long

yeah collins should’ve caught that, that was a good pass from keenum

and that’s the possession

that one play was basically it

ALRIGHT PENALTY

thank goodness

Patrick

Collins absolutely should’ve had that.

l4blitzer

Emerson clubhouse leader for CLE douche of the game…

GLORY TO ALL PENALTY OFFENSE

Joe

alright offsides!

hahaha

Patrick

Martin Emerson is the best Texans player on the field right now.

Joe

pierce is cooking

never mind

l4blitzer

Ref Ball dominating on this drive.

Patrick

Michael Dieter, hope you enjoy getting cut at the end of the season.

l4blitzer

Radio didn’t edit out a Mother[KITTEN] from field

Patrick

I love when that happens.

Joe

hahaha

that’ll put you in the holiday mood

just a bad day for the offensive line

l4blitzer

Given that they are playing this Cleveland front, I am not shocked. Doesn’t make it any less painful, but not surprising

Patrick

Sigh...

l4blitzer

That Howard injury might be the biggest injury loss we’ve had this year…

CLE POSSESSION

Patrick

Oh my [DURGA] all these flags.

l4blitzer

12 flags so far…combined

Wow…even with that kickoff return, this might be the worst special teams game for the Texans in the Frank Ross era.

Patrick

THEY DON’T NEED OUR [KITTEN]ING HELP, GUYS.

l4blitzer

Joe, feel free to predict a pick-six for us at anytime on this drive please

Joe

desmond king hanging in there

can you believe we waived shaquille griffin like a month ago

Patrick

Feels like ages ago

Joe

UGH

we could’ve used him there!

i mean like adrian amos but man

l4blitzer

Well, no Anderson or Greenard, we can’t get any real pressure on the classically elite Flacco

Patrick

“Remember, the Texans are missing pieces of their defense.”

NO [KITTEN]ING [KITTEN].

Welp.

FLACCO TO NJOKU FOR THE 21 YD TD (THOMPSON-ROBINSON WITH THE 2 PT CONVERSION RUN): CLE 22 - HOU 7 - REFS 12; 4:36, 2nd

Patrick

Unrelated to anything happening in the last few minutes of the game, I despise blue laws.

HOU POSSESSION

l4blitzer

Cleveland is kicking to Pierce? Ok…bold strategy…might just want to keep the ball out of the one player’s hands that has actually done something in this game.

One step forward…three steps back

Our Oline is getting crushed right now.

Joe

this game sucks

CLE POSSESSION

l4blitzer

13 penalties. The refs have more throwing attempts than our QBs

TWO MINUTE WARNING

Patrick

They have more completions too since, unlike Keenum, they’re actually TRYING to hit the ground.

l4blitzer

Did just see something that Cleveland’s kicker injured his hamstring.

Will the Browns try to poach Dare to kick in the second half?

Patrick

Yeah he’s hurt.

I AIN’T HEARD NO FAT LADY!

HOUSTON-CARSON WITH THE INT. HOU POSSESSION

l4blitzer

Strange that Flacco would go with the deep arm punt on 2nd down. You don’t start worrying about field position until 3rd down

Patrick

We got a completion for a first down without a penalty.

CHRISTMAS CAME EARLY!!

Aw [KITTEN], Emerson’s hurt. He’s the best player on our team.

l4blitzer

Now we can force the rest of the Cleveland defensive backfield to play

Joe

hahaha

here we go schultz!!!

any points would be good

l4blitzer

Agreed

Patrick

But we also get the ball back to start the half so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

Joe

oh my [DURGA]

l4blitzer

If they can get to the CLE 42, we can let Fairbairn air it out with the leg

Patrick

[KITTEN]ing kill me.

OWUSU-KORAMOAH WITH THE INT; CLE POSSESSION

l4blitzer

Disregard previous call

Patrick

They’re gonna score another TD here, aren’t they?

l4blitzer

Who would kick if Hopkins is out? Would they let the punter try?

Patrick

They’ll probably go for two the entire day and maybe get a sixth string RB to kick in his place.

l4blitzer

If they had Dare…yeah, you do that. Unless Flacco’s been working on his drop kicks as well

Patrick

This seems bad.

STINGLEY WITH THE END ZONE INT: HALFTIME. CLE 22 - HOU 7; REFs 13

Patrick

STINGLEY!

HALFTIME REACTIONS

l4blitzer

That would not…be a good thing.

This game has not gone according to plan if you are a Texans fan. The defense got off to a slow start. The loss of Anderson and Greenard has deprived the team of its best pass rushers, which is evident with Flacco dodging what little pressure the Texans can put on him. Cleveland’s defensive line is owing the Texans’ front and when the Texans can get any momentum, they are shooting themselves in the foot. Even the special teams has been sloppy, save the revelation of Pierce as a dynamite kick returner. Still, in spite of it all, Houston is still technically in the game. Cleveland may be without their kicker as well, so this could get very interesting.

Patrick

When they write the obituary on this season, whenever it ends, there will be paragraphs dedicated to the injuries and penalties this team has suffered this year and effectively sabotaged the entire season.

Joe

thank goodness for derek stingley on that final drive. This was a disastrous first half, and those handful of special teams plays and penalties are keeping up from being completely buried. I don’t know what the [KITTEN] is going on with the pass defense that has been alright for most of this season, but they’re bad right now, and in desperate need of the injured greenard and will anderson. Texans offensive line is bad again too. But, this cleveland defense is so good i was kind of expecting that. If the Texans want to win, which they need to, they can’t give up more than 7 points for the rest of the game

l4blitzer

Falcons up 20-7 on the Ponies. Jags play later. Might not be a great day for the AFC South overall…which might not be the worst thing for Houston at this rate.

Patrick

Ward and Greenard both officially out.

Joe

DEVIN SINGLETARY

START OF 3RD QUARTER

Patrick

You cannot convince me that Evan Washburn is a real person.

HOU POSSESSION

l4blitzer

A positive offensive run…and we didn’t get called for a hold? Guess the refs are still at halftime

One step forward…two steps back

CLE POSSESSION

l4blitzer

Hey, Texans…ya got any more of them INTs?

Patrick

Don’t the Browns know it’s always better to give than to receive?

Joe

jeez oh man

Patrick

Yup.

l4blitzer

Can’t get even close to Flacco…this is what will happen.

Patrick

And when they do, they get it out for a first down.

Joe

wasnt expecting the jordan akins revenge game

Patrick

The good news is that’s the last we’ll see of Akins today.

l4blitzer

Are the Texans trying to allow Cleveland to get within FG range and force a kicking mistake?

Patrick

Someone, anyone, please cover Cooper. He might be worth keeping an eye on by the defense, I dunno, just a thought.

Joe

he now has the most reception yards in a single game in browns history…

l4blitzer

200 yards already…wow, just when thought we left the bad old days of defense…

Patrick

It doesn’t help that 57 defensive players are all injured.

Caught a huge break there.

Enormous break.

l4blitzer

True…we are down to the back-up truck drivers at this point

Patrick

Conversion coming.

Un-[KITTEN]ing-real.

l4blitzer

Wow…that is the catch of the day if not the year

Joe

I HATE AMARI COOPER’

l4blitzer

A sign that this is not going to be our day

Patrick

Is it ironic that a team decimated with injuries is penalized with too many men on the field?

l4blitzer

Stingley still gonna make them work

At this point, Houston should just sign the fan of the year candidate. He could play LB with those arms

Joe

oh my good [DURGA]

Patrick

Oh [KITTEN] me.

Joe

we suck again!

FLACCO WITH THE 7 YD TD PASS TO COOPER: CLE 28 (2PT CONVERSION FAILS) - HOU 7; 2:35, 3rd

l4blitzer

Stingley has been balling, but Cooper too good on that pass play.

Joe

this is starting to get really ugly

HOU POSSESSION

Patrick

This game has been all [KITTEN].

l4blitzer

Would we have even 100 total yards if not for Pierce today?

Patrick

Yeah. Garbage time is still a thing.

l4blitzer

Keenum not having a good day, but when the WRs can’t hang on…doesn’t help

Patrick

I have nothing else I can add right now.

Okay, I’m done with Keenum now.

HARMON WITH THE INT: CLE POSSESSION

l4blitzer

Oline not helping on that pass as Keenum’s arm got hit

Colts trailing 23-10 in the 3rd at ATL

Patrick

It’s something at least.

Joe

this game sucks!!!

i can’t take this

l4blitzer

Are they trying to get Cooper 300 yards today?

Current record: 336 yards by Flipper Anderson (1989)

Mercy drop by Moore?

Patrick

The only thing saving us, if you can call this being saved, is all the drops.

END OF 3RD: CLE 28 - HOU 7. HOUSTON WILL STILL HAVE AN OVERALL WINNING AND A WINNING RECORD AT HOME AFTER TODAY

START OF THE 4TH

l4blitzer

So, of course, a Browns conversion

I get Cleveland is hot passing, but they should just run it to close this out

Patrick

Just go for it already y’all are going to get the conversion.

l4blitzer

Or not

Dumb penalty by King there

Patrick

Wonderful.

l4blitzer

only cost a yard, but still…that is dumb

Cooper up to 252 yards

MOAR flags

HUNT WITH THE 1 YD TD: (FLACCO 2 PT CONVERSION PASS TO COOPER GOOD) CLE 36 - HOU 7; 12:31, 4th

Patrick

Joe

yep this game is over

this was even worse than the jets game

But, I think we can now confirm that C.J. Stroud, Will Anderson, Tank Dell, and Jonathan Greenard were probably the most important 4 players on the team

l4blitzer

I would throw Tytus Howard into that list.

Patrick

But let’s not forget all the OL injuries that completely hamstrung the offense.

l4blitzer

Your Total Yards Tracker: CLE 406 – HOU 98

HOU POSSESSION

l4blitzer

May as well go with Mills.

CLE POSSESSION

Joe

yea really he’s the garbage time king anyways

talk about a deflating loss

Patrick

Yeah that switch to Davis Mills really turned the tide of this game didn’t it?

Totally glad he’s in and we’re going to be saved from defeat now right?

l4blitzer

How many injuries can a team take before they fold? For Houston, I think we found out today.

…and the Browns have called off the Flacco/Cooper machine

HOU POSSESSION

vballretired

Thank Durga I didn’t actually see any of this

Patrick

You chose wisely.

I’m currently trying to shoehorn a Mac and Me reference into the recap. Mostly because I don’t want to talk about the game.

vballretired

Not a choice but point well taken. I still had to listen to it.

l4blitzer

Loading up on depth will be a major Caserio priority this off-season

Patrick

Good news everyone! We broke 100 yards of total offense!

l4blitzer

Of note: Pierce has 174 yards in kick return yardage. The Houston offense: 150

vballretired

Dameon Pierce—-kickoff return weapon wasn’t on my 2023 Texans bingo card

l4blitzer

Pierce has still outgained the entire Texans offense

vballretired

The Colts will lose so we technically still control our own destiny

l4blitzer

We have tiebreakers over PIT and CIN in head-to-head, but our conference record takes a hit.

Patrick

Metchie, I’m waiting to be impressed.

vballretired

Impressed? [KITTEN], I’ll take underwhelmed

MILLS TO COLLINS FOR THE 5 YD TD (MILLS TO COLLINS FOR THE 2 PT CONVERSION): HOU 15 - CLE 36; 6:08, 4th

vballretired

Collins has been a bright spot in home games

l4blitzer

He had something like 800 yards receiving at home. Figure only Hill has more at home.

HOU POSSESSION (ON-SIDE KICK RECOVERY)

vballretired

More than that I think

Patrick

Don’t you dare do this to me, Texans.

I’ve made my peace already.

vballretired

Do what? Make it a two score game?

Patrick

Hey, weird [KITTEN] happens. With the Texans, doubly so.

vballretired

So for future reference, has the offense been uglier than the pass defense?

Trying to decide between the bad and ugly

Patrick

Whew, that’s hard to say. They’ve both been circus ugly today.

l4blitzer

Today, both equally suck. Of course, it might have been worse if not for Stingley and the 2 Flacco INTs

…and Schultz is injured?

vballretired

Why wasn’t Stingley on Cooper?

l4blitzer

Was some of the game. Not sure about coverages/etc.

Patrick

Yeah, what L4 said, the offense has a garbage time TD to point to, the defense has significantly more to point at.

Sure, let’s have another injury, it’s not like we just got him back or anything.

vballretired

Most of the yards were on Nelson and whoever that jamoke was that subbed for him

Patrick

17 total penalties today. Gross.

vballretired

Ref ball…..it’s fantastic

This game is worse than the jets game. At least that one was a game for a half

l4blitzer

Maybe this can be a springboard like the garbage time against Indy. We squashed JAX the following week.

MILLS WITH THE 1 YD TD PASS TO BECK: HOU 22 - CLE 36; 4:12, 4th

vballretired

It’s not a hopeless situation long term. Presumably you get at least one or two key guys back

Joe

well at least we got something

Patrick

That sign in the back of the end zone “It takes all of us” isn’t about racism, it’s about the Texans needing all of us just to field a full football team.

CLE POSSESSION

TEXANS POSSESSION

Patrick

Turnover on downs, Texans ball.

vballretired

Thank Durga for no kicker

Patrick

The Texans got flagged on every sixth offensive play.

vballretired

Still MoAR flags?

Patrick

Not yet, but the game ain’t over yet.

At least I don’t have to worry about my blood pressure during a fourth quarter comeback.

Mr. December with his one catch of the game.

vballretired

Well…..

Joe

hahaha

Patrick

Why not one more penalty? I’ve only just about finished the recap so I’m happy to go back and rewrite the stupid thing.

That’ll do it.

TEXANS LOSE IN A LAUGHER 36-22

vballretired

Always down for MOAR flags

Joe

Extremely deflating game, houston just getting completely flushed down the toilet and away from their playoff hopes. We saw this on the horizon after Stroud’s concussion, but last week made me believe in christmas miracles. I. think Houston had officially used up all their luck after that game, cuz this game got ugly in a hurry. Regardless, this has still been one of the best texans seasons in recent memory, and a big loss like this should not suck all of the positive progress that’s been made since December of last year

Screw the Browns

vballretired

Playoffs don’t effectively change. We need to win the next two which was always the case.

Maybe we could have lost to the Titans with a win today. We still have to beat the Colts.

Game balls to everyone that watched/listened to every play. You earned it today boys.

GAME BALLS:

KR/RB Dameon Pierce: For a man who went from rookie sensation to sophomore flop, Pierce may have just resurrected his career. As a running back, his numbers were about like the rest of his second season (6 yards on 3 carries, 1 reception for 10 yards). Yet, it was the revelation, first noted at Friday practice, that Pierce could be a weapon on kickoff returns. Cleveland went into the game with the strategy of the short kickoff (using multiple placekickers to do so...more later). Pierce made that quite the questionable strategy. Pierce logged 5 returns for 174 yards, to include the electric 98-yard return for a TD that made it 14-7 in the 2nd quarter. His returns generally put the Texans offense in decent field position, not that it helped. Pierce’s returns outgained the Texans offense until late in the 4th quarter. Not sure what his fate as a running back will be going forward, but he showed that Frank Ross has yet another tool for special teams dominance.

WR Amari Cooper: Odd that I would put an opposing player on this list, but Cooper had a game for the ages. 11 receptions for 265 yards and 2 TDs. The Flacco/Cooper connection destroyed the Texans’ already-weakened defense. Even when Derek Stingley Jr. was coving Cooper, he could not contain that force (albeit, Stingley did better than anything else in the Houston secondary). Cooper logged his 3rd 200-yard receiving day (1 for each team he’s played for) and also set the Browns’ franchise record.

Houston Texans Fans: For watching this game and sticking it out. Surely all wished that the team could have provided a better showing, but where this team is now, and given where it was only a season ago...yeah, for the long-suffering fans, have a HOTD game ball to put under the tree.

SHOULD BE FORCED TO NAME EVERY STARTING CLEVELAND STARTING QUARTERBACK SINCE 1999 WHILE TAKING SHOTS OF LAKE ERIE WATER

The Texans Offense in the 1st Three Quarters: Cleveland brought in the best overall defense in the league, so yards/points figured to be at a premium. However, the offense arguably fared worse in this game then they did against the Jets. Injuries are a major factor, but the Texans were beaten in all matchups. The offensive line held Myles Garrett in check, but the rest of the Browns defensive line feasted on Houston O-line. Receivers could not get separation and when they did, they couldn’t catch passes. Keenum showed why he is a 37-year old backup. Even when the squad could get momentum, they shot themselves in the foot with dumb penalties. Not that the rest of the team did all that well either through 3 quarters. However, the offensive ineptitude was stark on this day (under 100 yards of total offense until the 4th quarter), especially at home.

Browns Back-Up PKs Corey Bojorquez (P)/D’Anthony Bell (DB): Granted, many teams don’t plan to go into a game accounting for a back-up kicker. However, after this season, especially with what we saw with the Texans and now the Browns, teams should at least figure out who is the most viable for emergency kicking. When Dustin Hopkins went down with an injury trying to chase down Pierce on his kick-return TD, the Browns went with this committee approach. Ultimately didn’t hurt them, but in 3 kickoffs, they didn’t get one touchback and the Browns didn’t bother with a FG attempt, even when they were well-inside XP range. Compare this with emergency kicker Dare Ogunbowale, who had 3 Touchbacks and an actual FG. Based on what Ogunbowale did in his emergency kicking turn, our standards at Battle Red Blog are quire high. Thus, we have to mark down the Browns’ emergency kickers.

Note: Both of these players did have solid games in their day jobs. Should stick to that.

QB Deshaun Watson: When this game came out on the schedule, many figured that Watson would make his 2nd return to Houston, and perhaps, Houston could really get its revenge. Clearly, that didn’t happen. However, what must Cleveland and Watson be thinking? Cleveland is all-but-assured of a playoff spot. With their league-leading defense, they figure to have a say in the playoffs. Now if only Cleveland had a QB playing at a high level to get them over the top? Right now, they do. Yet, it is not the man who is owed $230M guaranteed, and who will be carrying a $63M+ cap hit over the next 3 seasons. No, it is Joe Flacco, who was effectively retired over a month ago and hasn’t been a “franchise quarterback” in a decade. Imagine if this run continues and Flacco gets Cleveland to a Super Bowl? What to think? Cleveland could say that they got Watson and got to a Super Bowl, but not because of Watson? Go figure that one out.

Yet, even with this soul-crushing beatdown, the Texans remain in 8th position, just like they started the day. They only trail the Colts by virtue of Indy’s Week 2 win and will get another shot at the Ponies in the season finale. However, before the Colts, the team has a major hurdle to overcome: winning a home division game against the Titans. The Texans haven’t won a home division game since Week 1 of the 2021 season (0-6-1 since). They haven’t beat the Titans at home since 2018 (0-4 since). The Texans look to alter both of those streaks next week with a noon CST kickoff on New Year’s Eve. See you then.