Amari Cooper has franchise-record 265 yards receiving to lead Browns to 36-22 win over Texans

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Cleveland Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper (2) catches a pass for a touchdown as Houston Texans cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (24) defends during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

HOUSTON – After Amari Cooper grabbed a 53-yard reception on the game's first play Sunday, the Cleveland Browns star thought he'd be in for a big day.

It turned out to be the biggest day for a receiver in team history.

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Cooper set a franchise record with 265 yards receiving and scored two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion, and the Browns beat the Houston Texans 36-22 to move closer to a playoff berth.

“Not to disrespect their defensive backs (but) everything was flowing well and it kind of seemed a little easy,” he said.

Cooper's performance moved him atop the Browns' record book ahead of Josh Gordon, who had 261 yards receiving against Jacksonville on Dec. 1, 2013. It was also the most receiving yards in an NFL game this season. Cooper has 1,250 yards, making him the first receiver in team history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

It was his third 200-yard receiving game, and he joins Terrell Owens as the only players to do it with three teams. Cooper had a 226-yard game with the Cowboys and a 210-yard game for the Raiders.

The Browns can’t clinch a playoff spot this week, but at 10-5 they’re all but guaranteed to secure just their second postseason appearance since 2002. It’s the third time since 1999 that they’ve reached double-digit wins, doing so in 2007 and 2020.

A win Thursday against the New York Jets will punch their ticket to the playoffs.

“I can’t wait. ... We can earn it on Thursday,” coach Kevin Stefanski said.

Joe Flacco threw for 368 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in his fourth start for the Browns, who built a 22-7 halftime lead and cruised to their third straight victory.

Cooper, who had TD catches of 75 and 7 yards, credited Flacco for his success.

“To be completely candid, I would attribute most of it to Joe,” he said. “He has an incredible feel for the game. He has an incredible arm. … The best way of explaining it is that we mesh well together.”

Houston’s playoff hopes took a blow as the Texans fell to 8-7 on a day when Case Keenum threw for just 62 yards with two interceptions in his second start in place of star rookie C.J. Stroud, who's recovering from a concussion. Keenum was replaced by Davis Mills late in the third quarter.

“We just didn’t do enough today,” the 35-year-old Keenum said. “We got our butts kicked and that’s never fun. I hadn’t had it like that in a while.”

After squeaking out a 19-16 overtime win at Tennessee last week, Houston struggled from the start Sunday, and the team didn’t score on offense until the fourth quarter.

Houston coach DeMeco Ryans knows the offense must do more but was more disappointed in his defense.

“When you don’t get pressure on the quarterback, no matter who’s out there it’s going to be a long day,” he said. “Flacco had a really good day against us. We didn’t pressure him at all. He stood back in the pocket. He had all day to throw the football and we weren’t where we were supposed to be in coverage.”

The Browns took an early lead when Jerome Ford took a direct snap and scored on a 4-yard run on the first possession. Cooper made it 14-0 with his 75-yard TD catch early in the second quarter.

“He’s special,” Flacco said. “We were able to get him open down the field, but he was also able to go up for some balls and be strong through the catch and all that stuff.”

Dameon Pierce cut the lead to seven points when he returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Pierce, in his first action as a returner, got a couple of early blocks before outrunning the rest of the defense for Houston’s second kick return score of the season.

Kicker Dustin Hopkins, who attempted to chase down Pierce during the run, left after that with a hamstring injury, and the Browns didn’t attempt an extra point or field goal the rest of the game. Stefanski didn't have an update on Hopkins after the game except to say that he'll have an MRI.

The Browns extended their lead on a 21-yard TD reception by David Njoku with about four minutes left in the first half. Backup QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson ran for the 2-point conversion to make it 22-7.

Flacco connected with Cooper again on a 7-yard TD with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, but the 2-point conversion failed.

Duron Harmon picked Keenum off soon after Cooper’s second score. Cleveland’s defense celebrated the turnover by running to the end zone and pretending to make snow angels.

The offense got in the end zone again on the next drive when Kareem Hunt scored on a 1-yard run. Cooper caught the 2-point conversion pass to put the Browns ahead 36-7.

Mills, the starter for most of the last two seasons, cut the lead to 36-15 when he finally got the Texans into the end zone on a TD pass and 2-point conversion to Nico Collins.

Houston recovered an onside kick and added another garbage-time touchdown.


Browns LB Anthony Walker Jr. missed the game after undergoing knee surgery Thursday. … Browns CB Martin Emerson Jr. injured his shin in the third quarter. … Houston S Jimmie Ward (quadriceps) and DE Jonathan Greenard (ankle) were both injured in the first half and didn’t return.


Browns: Host the New York Jets on Thursday night.

Texans: Host Tennessee next Sunday.



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