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November 30, 2023

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Winslow fights to the very end in an overtime victory over Seattle

BEREA – In an almost empty locker room, a teary-eyed Kellen Winslow struggled while stuffing personal items into a bag after an extra-long workday. His shoulder ached, his knee throbbed and his hip killed him.

He was hurting all over.

Most of his teammates had already showered and walked past. Winslow moved slowly, looking more like he was 54 than the 24-year-old physical specimen who routinely runs past NFL cornerbacks.

Winslow left everything on the field Sunday, playing like his Hall of Fame father famously did during an AFC playoff game on a humid December night in Miami decades ago. Anyone else might have succumbed to the pain.

Not Winslow. Cleveland’s tough tight end, whose promising career nearly ended two years ago from injuries sustained in a near-fatal motorcycle crash, refused to quit during a 33-30 overtime win against Seattle.

“You’ve got to love that guy,” cornerback Leigh Bodden said as Winslow packed up behind him. “He loves this game.”

Beyond his 11 catches for 125 yards, Winslow’s hard-nosed performance perhaps embodied these never-say-die Browns (5-3). Winslow just might will them to the playoffs.

He’s becoming a leader, the guy everyone in the locker room follows. No one can debate Winslow’s heart, determination or drive. He has lived up to his hype.

“I told you, I’m a soldier, man,” Winslow said with a smile, playfully referencing his infamous “I’m a soldier” rant that drew him public scorn when he was a Miami Hurricane. “They weren’t going to keep me out. They’d have to drag me off the field.”

Maybe the Browns should have carried him – on their shoulders.

If not for Winslow, Cleveland probably wouldn’t have won. The four-year veteran made five catches for 58 yards in the fourth quarter, with four picking up first downs as the Browns came back from a 21-9 halftime deficit.

With Cleveland trailing late in the third quarter, Winslow snagged a 14-yard pass from Derek Anderson on third-and-8. Winslow landed hard on the turf from the tackle and was sluggish getting up. He staggered to the bench, his left side noticeably sagging.

On Cleveland’s sideline, TV cameras showed Browns trainers massaging his left leg as Winslow sat grimacing. Moments later, he was up and weaving his way through players and coaches to get back on the field.

“He plays through a lot,” Bodden said. “You have to respect that guy. He plays hard no matter what.”

A few plays later, Winslow made a 13-yard catch on fourth down, setting up a 2-yard run by Jamal Lewis.

On the Browns’ final possession of regulation, Winslow made four catches for 45 yards, including a 14-yarder that moved the ball to Seattle’s 1, where Lewis barreled in for his fourth TD to put Cleveland ahead.

The Seahawks knew Winslow was good. Not this good.

“He’s out there like another receiver,” Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. “I know he plays tight end, but he gets open, has speed and runs good routes. We had our hands full.”

Despite all his clutch catches, Winslow lamented one he didn’t make.

Before his 14-yard grab, Winslow got his hands on a pass from Anderson in the end zone but couldn’t bring it in.

“I missed it,” he said. “To be great, you can’t drop those.”

Winslow wouldn’t have said something like that a few years ago. That he would now is a sign of maturity.

He came into the league with a reputation, and it wasn’t a good one. The son of Kellen Winslow, the San Diego Chargers great, the younger Winslow had all the physical tools. But he was aloof, cocky, even mean-spirited.

He played in just two games as a rookie before breaking his right leg. Finally recovered, he was just two months from reporting to training camp in 2005 when he suffered serious internal injuries in a motorcycle wreck while doing tricks in a parking lot.

Winslow would undergo several operations, including microfracture surgery on his right knee last winter.

The adversity could have broken him. Instead, it made him stronger.

“When I came in as a rookie, I felt I had a lot to prove, but I didn’t know how to go about it, I think,” he said. “I wanted to tell everybody how good I was. I learned you don’t have to do that. The great ones don’t do that. You just go out and do it and let other people tell you about it.

“You just go do it. You live and learn. I was 20 years old. I’m 24 now, I’m married, I’m growing up.”

Winslow has a softer side, too.

Following Sunday’s game, Winslow sat quietly at his locker and dissected perhaps Cleveland’s biggest regular-season win in five years. He was asked about the day in 1982 when his dad, dehydrated and exhausted, caught 13 passes for 166 yards and blocked a field goal in the final seconds to lead the Chargers past the Dolphins.

Afterward, the elder Winslow had to be helped off the field by teammates, an iconic NFL image.

“It’s just want-to, man,” Kellen said of the Winslow way. “That’s all it is. It’s how bad do you want it in crunch time.”

Then Winslow bowed his head and fell silent. He cried. After a long pause, he looked up as a tear streaked down his face.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Winslow had no reason to be.

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