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

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. (Eric Christian Smith/AP Photo)
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By KRISTIE RIEKEN | AP Sports Writer

HOUSTON (AP) — Amari Cooper set a franchise record with 265 yards receiving and scored two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion to move the Cleveland Browns closer to a playoff berth with a 36-22 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.

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. He has 1,250 yards receiving this season, making him the first receiver in team history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

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.

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 had TD catches of 75 and 7 yards and set up Cleveland’s first score with a 53-yard reception on the first play of the day.

Houston’s wild-card 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 remains out with a concussion. Keenum was replaced by Davis Mills late in the third quarter.

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.

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 when he grabbed a 75-yard reception for a TD early in the second quarter.

Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) celebrates with fellow running backs Devin Singletary (26) and Dare Ogunbowale (33) after returning a kickoff for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in Houston. (David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

Dameon Pierce cut the lead to 7 when he returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Pierce, in his first action as a returner Sunday, got a couple of early blocks before simply 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 a PAT the rest of the game.

The Browns extended the lead on a 21-yard 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, making it 28-7.

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.

Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum (18) throws as Cleveland Browns defensive end Za’Darius Smith (99) tackles during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in Houston. (David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

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 to leave the Browns up 36-7 early in the fourth.

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 got an onside kick and added another touchdown after that to cut the lead to 36-22 with about four minutes left.

INJURIES

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.

UP NEXT

Browns: Host the New York Jets on Thursday night.

Texans: Host Tennessee next Sunday.


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