The Cleveland Browns are playoff bound. It’s not a sentence that can be written often but for the second time since 2003, the Browns will be part of the postseason. They stamped their ticket in style, rolling the New York Jets 37-20 to move to 11-5 on the season.
The Browns win guarantees they will finish ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the division for the first time since 1989. The best the Steelers can finish is 10-7.
QB Joe Flacco continued his magical run, throwing three first half scores and 296 yards as Cleveland took a 34-17 lead into the half. While it reads as an offensive shootout, defenses played key roles in racking up the points, each side pick-sixing the other during the first 30 minutes.
Cleveland got the scoring starting the conventional way, going seven plays for 75 yards on their opening drive. Flacco hit RB Jerome Ford for a 7-yard score, utilizing other weapons with WR Amari Cooper inactive due to a heel injury. The Jets quickly answered. With Trevor Siemian at QB, he also found his running back through the air, connecting with Breece Hall for a 21-yard score to tie the game at seven.
The Browns answered with an identical drive as their first, again using seven plays and 75 yards into the end zone, capped off with another 7-yard score.. This time, it came from the ground, RB Kareem Hunt punching it in.
Newly signed kicker Riley Patterson, replacing the injured Dustin Hopkins, missed the extra point to keep things at 13-7. The first pick-six came late in the quarter, S Ronnie Hickman taking this one from Siemian and running it 30 yards the other way.
WR Elijah Moore extended the lead to 27-7 with an 8-yard catch mid-way through the second quarter. The Jets used their defense to battle back, DL Jermaine Johnson picking off his tipped pass and racing it into the end zone.
But the Browns didn’t go into the half on a sour note. Flacco turned back the clock and extended the play, finding RB Jerome Ford near the left sideline. He darted in and out of tackles downfield, over the goal line for a wild 50-yard score.
Jets’ kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed a 46-yarder on the final play of the half but the Browns still doubled up their points, 34-17 at the break. New York drove 11 plays to open up the third quarter but Zuerlein’s kick was blocked by DT Shelby Harris, preventing the Jets from getting optimistic about a comeback.
Things settled down in the third quarter, each side trading punts. The most exciting storyline shifted to if Flacco could battle his old-man need for sleep, a reminder he’s 38 and more productive than any Steelers QB has been for three seasons. After a flurry of first half points, both sides went scoreless in the third quarter. The only points in the final stanza came off a pair of field goals from each kicker’s leg.
Flacco finished the day with 309 yards, throwing for jut 13 of them in the second half. TE David Njoku was his favorite target with Cooper out, catching six passes for 134 yards.
Keeping the heat on the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns will finish the regular season next weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals. Cleveland can still win the AFC North and even become the AFC’s No. 1 seed if things break their way. If the Ravens lose this weekend to the Miami Dolphins, they will be playing for the top seed in Week 18, meaning they almost certainly won’t be resting their starters in the finale against Pittsburgh.
The Jets will finish out the year at New England and then count down the days until QB Aaron Rodgers can return to the field.