CLEVELAND — Joe Flacco’s improbable revival season reached another level on “Thursday Night Football” as he led the Cleveland Browns to a playoff berth with a 37-20 win over the New York Jets.

Flacco become the first player in NFL history to have 250 passing yards and multiple passing touchdowns in each of his first five games with a franchise. The Browns signed Flacco on Nov. 20 after Deshaun Watson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on Nov. 12.

The Browns led 34-17 at the half, marking the highest-scoring first half since 2019, when the 49ers and Saints combined for 55 points in Week 14 (the 49ers won 48-46), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are playoff bound.

The Browns destroyed the New York Jets to clinch their first spot in the AFC playoffs since 2020.

Cleveland, with four straight wins, is surging at just the right time heading into the postseason.

QB breakdown: Flacco once again was fabulous. For the fourth time in his five starts, he led the Browns down the field on the opening drive for a touchdown. He then capped Cleveland’s 34-point first-half scoring barrage by scrambling outside the pocket to his left to find Jerome Ford wide open for a 50-yard touchdown throw. In the first half alone, Flacco tossed three touchdowns and passed for 296 yards, the most in any half in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He now has more than 300 passing yards in every victory of this four-game winning streak.

Buy on a breakout performance: Tight end David Njoku is playing the best ball of his career. With star receiver Amari Cooper (heel) out, Njoku stepped up with 113 receiving yards in the first quarter. That alone was the second-best receiving game of his career. Njoku has four touchdown catches over his past four games and is proving to be one of the league’s top tight end receiving threats.

Pivotal play: Rookie safety Ronnie Hickman intercepted Trevor Siemian for a 30-yard pick-six in the first quarter. That gave the Browns a 20-7 lead that put the Jets on their heels the rest of the way. — Jake Trotter

Next game: at Bengals (TBD, Sunday, Jan. 7)

New York Jets

The idea that Aaron Rodgers’ anticipated return in 2024 will magically fix the New York Jets — the company line — is woefully misguided. They have too many issues for one player to solve, and many of them were on display in an embarrassing loss in prime time.

In addition to the usual sins — sloppy penalties, questionable playcalling, shaky game management, etc. — the Jets were undermined by the supposed strength of the team. Their third-ranked defense looked ill-prepared and got torched by Flacco.

The Jets had no answers for a Cleveland offense that was on its fourth quarterback and didn’t have its top wide receiver (Cooper) and top running back (Nick Chubb). And yet the 38-year-old Flacco played like it was 2012, the year he led the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl title. The Jets allowed five touchdowns and 367 total yards — in the first half!

And the Jets went into the season thinking they could recreate the 1985 Bears. Cue the laugh track.

Robert Saleh’s record dropped to 17-34 as the Jets (6-10) hit double-digit losses for the fourth straight year.

Troubling trend: The Jets’ QB4 (Siemian) was badly outplayed by the Browns’ QB4, underscoring a question that will haunt the Jets into the offseason: Why didn’t they re-sign Flacco when Rodgers was injured in Week 1? Flacco is enjoying a career revival, showing the Jets firsthand what they could’ve had. Meanwhile, the Jets’ quarterback play has been among the worst in the league.

Biggest hole in the game plan: OK, we’re nitpicking, considering the mass ineptitude, but the Jets’ coverage plan for tight end David Njoku was terrible. Linebacker C.J. Mosley covered him on a couple of the big plays in the first quarter, setting the tone for the game. Mosley is a terrific player, but pass coverage isn’t his strength. He allowed three completions for 76 yards as the nearest defender, according to Next Gen Stats. Njoku finished with 134 yards on six catches.

Silver linings: Breece Hall was the best player on the field for the Jets. He rushed for 84 yards and scored on a 21-yard reception, continuing his late-season surge. Defensive end Jermaine Johnson made the play of the night, returning an interception 37 yards for a touchdown, and Garrett Wilson became the first Jets player since Keyshawn Johnson (1998-1999) to reach 1,000 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons.

Bold prediction: Siemian — not Zach Wilson — will close out the season against the New England Patriots. Even if Wilson clears concussion protocol, why would he want to return for this mess? — Rich Cimini

Next game: at Patriots (TBD, Sunday, Jan. 7)

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *