The 2023 Cleveland Browns season ended a little earlier than they would have hoped. However, despite an apocalyptic series of injuries, the team’s inspiring push into the playoffs earned them a lot of notice at the NFL’s year-end awards on Thursday night.
Cleveland Browns Clean Up at NFL’s Associated Press Awards
The Cleveland Browns took home all four awards that they were nominated for. In addition to the AP awards mentioned below, the team sent seven players to the Pro Bowl, the most in over 30 years.
Cleveland Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski: Coach of the Year
Head Coach Kevin Stefanski took home his second NFL Coach of the Year award in just four years on the job. Stefanski emerged as a top candidate after making a 4-1 run in December despite losing his starting quarterback, star running back and a significant portion of the offense among others. He barely edged Houston Texans coach DeMeco Ryans. They tied with 165 points, but Stefanski had one more first-place vote than Ryans. Stefanski is the first Cleveland Browns head coach to win the award twice.
“I’m honored and I could not do this thing by myself,” Stefanski said via the team’s website. “I get incredible support from everyone in this building. Our coaches, our players, our staff. I’m so lucky. I am so blessed. I could not do this thing by myself. And then outside this building with the fans. We have the best fans in the National Football League, the best fans in the world. The Browns Backers around the world and here in Northeast Ohio, I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of the support they give this football team. We feed off that energy and we really want to give them a team that they’re proud of.”
Jim Schwartz: Assistant Coach of the Year
Jim Schwartz breathed new life into the team’s defense in just his first year on the job. He took a talented but underperforming group and moved them straight to the top of the league. They finished 2023 allowing an average of 270.2 yards per game, the best in the league in the last nine years. They also led the league in passing yards per game and third-down percentage.
“Coach (Jim) Schwartz, so well deserved, Assistant of the Year,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said to ClevelandBrowns.com. “What he was able to accomplish in year one with this defensive staff, with these players was truly historic. I’m so proud of coach and I’m so proud that.”
Myles Garrett: Defensive Player of the Year
Edge rusher Myles Garrett was the centerpiece of the Schwartz Renaissance in 2023. This caps a slew of awards Garrett has picked up in the offseason. He was named PFWA Defensive Player of the Year, was named first-team All=Pro, and named Professional Athlete of the Year at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards.
It’s a testament to how dominating Garrett was in the season’s first three months that he won all of these awards. Garrett amassed an astounding 13 sacks in the first 10 games. But he was virtually absent from the stat sheet in the team’s last seven games after sustaining a shoulder injury.
“Cleveland, this one’s for you,” said Garrett in closing his acceptance speech. We’re going to bring home something bigger next time.”
Joe Flacco: Comeback Player of the Year
Quarterback Joe Flacco may go down in history as the first NFL Comeback Player of the Year who told people to vote for someone else. Weeks before the ceremony, Flacco encouraged voters to vote for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who returned to the team after suffering cardiac arrest on the field in 2022. Flacco said this while on the Zach Gleb Show a few weeks ago: “I’m just coming back from being old and not being on a team for a couple of months.”
Despite this, Flacco did manage to narrowly upset Hamlin, 151-140. Hamlin actually earned 21 first-place votes vs. Flacco’s 13, but the Cleveland Browns quarterback scored 26 second-place votes against Hamlin’s 7. Clearly, the voters were captivated by Flacco joining the team in late November and leading them to a 4-1 record in December. In addition, Flacco was statistically one of the top quarterbacks in the league at the same time.
“Big thanks to the city of Cleveland, just everybody in Cleveland,” Flacco said in his acceptance speech (via Mary Kay Cabot, Cleveland.com). “I want to say thank you to my teammates just for welcoming me in that locker room at that point of the year. 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 of months. Truly special.”
Main Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports