The Browns have officially clinched a playoff spot, defeating the New York Jets 37-20 on Thursday Night Football and improving to 11-5 on the season. Let’s get to the full game recap.
The Browns got the ball first, and even without Amari Cooper available, Joe Flacco came out firing. On 3rd-and-15, Flacco checked it down to TE David Njoku, who found space and ran it for 36 yards past midfield.
That was followed by more big plays: a 10-yard run by RB Jerome Ford, a 28-yard pass to Njoku, and then a 7-yard touchdown pass to Ford at the front left corner of the end zone. K Riley Patterson put the extra point through to give the Browns a quick 7-0 lead.
The Jets had a good response on their first drive. QB Trevor Siemian found WR Garrett Wilson up the left side for 22 yards, beating CB Martin Emerson. Then, RB Breece Hall shredded Cleveland’s defense, running for 25 yards, and then later on 3rd-and-5 from the 21 yard line, catching a cross pattern for a 21-yard catch-and-run touchdown, tying the game at 7-7 mid-way through the first quarter.
Cleveland remained hot on their second drive, as Flacco found Njoku for another big catch-and-run on 3rd-and-12, this time going for 43 yards, down to the 7-yard line. One play later, RB Kareem Hunt was shot out of a cannon right up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown, putting the Browns up 13-7 (Patterson missed the extra point to the right this time).
On the ensuing kickoff, LB Matthew Adams forced a fumble on the return man, and CB Mike Ford recovered at the 12 yard line. Flacco started this drive with an 8-yard completion to WR Cedric Tillman. Unfortunately, after a second-down incompletion, Hunt was stuffed for a loss of two yards on third down. The Browns decided to go for it on fourth down, and Flacco was frustrated when Tillman cut his route off, leading to an incompletion and turnover on downs. It didn’t matter. Two plays later, Siemian threw an interception to S Ronnie Hickman, which he returned 30 yards for a touchdown! That put the Browns on top 20-7.
The Browns’ defense forced a punt to end the first quarter, and the ball was rolling toward the end zone and just barely touched the white line for a touchback.
After a big first quarter, Njoku had another big catch-and-run going. As he tried to hurdle the defense, though, DE C.J. Mosley punched the ball out for a fumble. After a scrum, Mosley ended up recovering at the Jets’ 35-yard line.
The damage was limited, though, as the Jets went three-and-out again and punted to the 21 yard line. Flacco then continued to deal for the Browns. He targeted WR Elijah Moore a lot on this drive, first hitting him for 6 yards, 1 yard, and then 24 yards on three straight plays. On 1st-and-10 from the Jets 48 yard, Flacco found TE Jordan Akins for 28 yards. A few plays later, on 3rd-and-goal from the 8 yard line, Flacco fired to Moore in the left corner for a touchdown, putting the Browns up 27-7.
DE Myles Garrett finally got his sack to begin the Jets’ next drive, which helped set up another three-and-out for the defense. The Jets punted to the Browns’ 18 yard line. Cleveland was cruising again, getting to midfield. Unfortunately, that’s when a huge miscue happened: from midfield, the Jets read a screen pass, so Flacco pump faked it a few times. Eventually, he still decided to release it, and the Jets tipped it and picked it off, returning it 37 yards for a touchdown. That trimmed the Browns’ lead 27-14 with 2:02 remaining in the first half.
Flacco got the Browns right back to midfield in the two-minute warning, with a 22-yard catch-and-run to Moore. Moore was tackled hard on his head after the play, and had to head to the medical tent. Flacco dodged a hit to the head on the next play, rolled left, looked like he was going to run it, but then fired it to Ford, who had broken free. Ford broke tackles near the end zone and powered through for the 50-yard touchdown, making it a 34-14 game with 1:25 remaining.
is this real life?— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 29, 2023
'Rome making them look silly out there pic.twitter.com/OAlQSNv2t4
Siemian found TE Tyler Conklin for a 20-yard gain to get into field goal range. A hold on the Jets’ left tackle on Garrett took them out of field goal range, but Siemian followed that up with a 14-yard catch-and-run to WR Xavier Gibson, which was enough to set K Greg Zuerlein up for a 46-yard field goal to trim the the Browns’ lead to 34-17 at the half.
Flacco’s first half stats? 16-of-22 for 296 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
The Jets got the ball to begin the third quarter and started well on the ground, rushing for gains of 4, 17, 6, and 3 yards to set up a 3rd-and-1 at the Browns’ 41 yard line. Hall got the pitch and avoided the tackle attempt from Garrett to pick up 10 yards and a first down. Siemian fired a 24-yard pass over the middle to set the Jets up with a 1st-and-goal at the 6 yard line.
Hall lost his footing on first down, getting hit for a loss of 2 yards. On 2nd-and-goal from the 8, Siemian’s pass was incomplete. On 3rd-and-goal, the quick slant was tipped and incomplete. The Jets sent the field goal unit out, and Zuerlein was blocked from 31 yards out by DT Shelby Harris! The Jets came up empty-handed, wasting 5:33 of clock.
Cleveland would take over at the 21 yard line. On second down, as Ford was being tackled to the ground, he was stripped of the ball, with the Jets recovering. However, after review, it was ruled that Ford’s backside touched the ground just before the fumble, keeping the ball with the Browns. On 3rd-and-7, Flacco’s out route to WR David Bell only gained four yards, forcing the first punt of the day by Cleveland. He punted 44 yards to the 33 yard line, where the Jets would take over.
The Jets went with a series of short passes to start their next drive and get close to midfield. A few rushes got them into Cleveland territory, including a quarterback sneak by Siemian on 3rd-and-inches. The defense came up with a stop after that, though, and on 4th-and-10 at the 44 yard line, the Jets had to punt, with WR James Proche making the fair catch at the 10 yard line.
Cleveland couldn’t run the clock out to end the quarter, as a few incomplete passes started to pile up. The Jets returned the punt to their own 47 yard line with four seconds left in the quarter. The third quarter ended with an 8-yard end around to Gibson into Cleveland territory.
Emerson just missed an interception on 3rd-and-6 at the Browns’ 39 yard line. The Jets were initially going to go for it, but after a delay of game, they punted down to the 10 yard line. RB Pierre Strong began the Browns’ next drive, rushing for 7 yards. On the next carry, he ran for 15 yards — on the next play, though Strong fumbled and the Jets recovered at the Browns’ 35 yard line.
Cleveland appeared to have stuffed Siemian on a 4th-and-inches quarterback sneak, but officials ruled that the Browns had 12 men on the field. The defense still came up with another stop, and on 4th-and-16, Zuerlein came on for a 44-yard field goal to make it a 34-20 game with 8:50 to play.
Cleveland’s offense continued their slow second half, going three-and-out and punting to the 23 yard line with 7:13 remaining. The Browns forced an immediate 4th-and-6, and Siemian was just stopped on a scramble an inch short of a first down, for a turnover on downs. The Browns’ offense took over at the Jets’ 32 yard line with 5:21 remaining. Hunt started the drive with an 8-yard run. Hunt moved the chains with 4 yards and another first down. Hunt continued running until he set up a 33-yard field goal attempt for Patterson, who hit it to give the Browns a 37-20 lead with 2:54 to go.
The clock ran out from there to finish the game and clinch the playoffs for the Browns!
Up next, the Browns play their regular season finale against the Bengals. It’ll be interesting to see whether Cleveland rests their starters — it could depend on the outcome of this week’s Dolphins vs. Ravens game, since they can’t do worse than the No. 5 seed, but could possibly get the division if the Ravens lose.
- QB Joe Flacco: 19-of-29 for 309 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT.
- RB Jerome Ford: 12 carries, 64 yards (5.3 YPC). 2 catches, 57 yards, 2 TD.
- RB Kareem Hunt: 10 carries, 31 yards (3.1 YPC), 1 TD.
- TE David Njoku: 6 catches, 134 yards, 1 TD.
- DE Myles Garrett: 1 sack.