Cleveland Browns' one last hope ends up in tight end David Njoku's one hand

CLEVELANDDavid Njoku wasn't ready to think about some kind of career ranking. So don't ask the Browns tight end if his one-handed touchdown catch to force overtime against Tampa Bay Sunday is No. 1 on his list of catches.

“My career isn’t over yet," Njoku said afterwards. "Maybe. Sure.”

Where the 12-yard catch falls on Njoku's personal list can be debated another day. Where it falls among the catches made by the Browns during Sunday's 23-17 overtime win over the Buccaneers is not up for debate.

It's No. 1, and there's no clear challenger. That's because there's no Browns win without that catch.

“That was a heck of an NFL play," Buccaneers nose tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches said. "I just think back to when we played Pittsburgh and some guys just make remarkable plays. You just have to tip your hat to him.”

The setup for the play was simple. The Browns faced fourth-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 12 with 37 seconds remaining, while trailing 17-10.

Njoku lined up in a two-point stance on the left side of the formation and found himself being covered by Buccaneers linebacker Devin White. Despite the fact White was in tight coverage, quarterback Jacoby Brissett fired a pass to Njoku in the middle of the end zone, a pass he later said he threw "too high."

Browns tight end David Njoku catches a fourth-quarter TD pass from quarterback Jacoby Brissett against the Buccaneers in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.
Browns tight end David Njoku catches a fourth-quarter TD pass from quarterback Jacoby Brissett against the Buccaneers in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.

With White still tight on him, Njoku reached up his left hand. The ball stuck in his big paw, and he cradled it to his body as he fell to the turf.

"I think Jacoby threw a perfect ball," said Njoku, who had five catches for 29 yards and the score Sunday. "I don’t know what the hell he was saying before about ‘too high.’ That was perfect. Kudos goes to him.”

On the previous play, Njoku caught a screen pass defended well played by Tampa Bay's Lavonte David. It went for a 1-yard loss, leaving the Browns down to their last chance.

At which point, the Browns went right back to the well. Or, in this case, tight end.

Browns tight end David Njoku runs up the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Cleveland.
Browns tight end David Njoku runs up the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Cleveland.

"Tried a screen to Dave on the play before and thought we might be able to spring one, and it was close," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "When you are calling those plays – I have said this before – you are thinking about players and not plays. I am calling the play, I am seeing the coverage and I am thinking Dave the whole time, and Jacoby is thinking the same. Gave a great ball to where that ball has to be, and Dave goes up and does what Dave does.”

Brissett, for his part, believes Stefanski is part of the group deserving credit for the play even being in Sunday's playbook. A day early, it was the subject of a healthy back-and-forth in a meeting of the team's four quarterbacks, Stefanski, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing.

At that time, the play's biggest skeptic was the one who made the throw Sunday. However, Brissett admits he was talked out of his dissent by the majority in the room.

"Before the game Saturday, I was talking to Kevin about the plan and what we like in the red zone, and originally, I didn’t like that play versus that coverage," Brissett said. "I was like, ‘I want something else.’ Those guys in that room – Drew (Petzing), Kevin, AVP, Josh (Dobbs), Kellen (Mond) and Deshaun (Watson) – we were just sitting there and thinking about like, ‘Why is this play good?’ It was like, ‘Well, because we give one of our best players the opportunity to be one on one because they are doubling everybody else in coverage.’"

Browns tight end David Njoku, right, celebrates his fourth-quarter touchdown with Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) against the Buccaneers in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. The Browns won 23-17 in overtime.
Browns tight end David Njoku, right, celebrates his fourth-quarter touchdown with Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) against the Buccaneers in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. The Browns won 23-17 in overtime.

The play, clearly stayed in the game plan. It wouldn't be run, though, until the Browns were clearly staring down a third consecutive loss and an eighth loss on the season.

That's when the success its designers foresaw on Saturday came true on Sunday.

“Obviously, the game was not finished so I didn’t want anybody getting too hyper," Njoku said. "It was a nice catch, but the game was not finished. I am just glad that we finished the right way.”

Contact Chris at ceasterling@thebeaconjournal.com.

On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: David Njoku keeps Browns hopes alive with one-handed TD catch