The post-season is in sight for the Cleveland Browns now that all the new toys have been properly played with for a solid week. Time to get back to the business of professional football.
The New York Jets were eliminated from playoff contention several weeks ago, but players have a sense of pride and most are auditioning for their jobs either with the Jets or later as a free agent. So, they want to win.
Entering the contest with a very good 10-5-0 record, the Browns have an extended season to look forward to especially holding onto the #5 seed for the tournament. Win and in the playoffs. Tons of starters are now on IR, but the players left over have the “next-man-up” mentality and no quit.
The 34 first-half points were the second most Cleveland has ever scored in franchise history before winning 37-20 in front of a packed home crowd. Don’t look now, but the 2023 Browns are 11-5-0.
So who played well for the Browns? Who didn’t?
TE David Njoku - The first drive that gave the Browns an early 7-0 lead was mainly Njoku getting large chunks. Excellent day with yards after contact as well as shown by that first reception where he gained 36 yards on an eight-yard reception over LB E.J. Moseley. His 43-yard catch-and-run with just over five minutes to go in the first quarter was by making a move on Moseley, then taking it down the right sideline after being way open. In the second quarter, he again snared a pass and gained 19 yards before Moseley snuck up behind him and punched out the ball killing a good drive. Finished with 134 yards on six receptions with eight targets, zero touchdowns, a 22.3 average yards per reception, and one lost fumble.
is this real life?— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 29, 2023
'Rome making them look silly out there pic.twitter.com/OAlQSNv2t4
RB Jerome Ford - What a sensational catch and run from Flacco by Ford. At first, it appeared he was looking for a man to block thinking his QB was off and running. But he made a smooth catch at the 40-yard line, turned it upfield, and then juked out S Jordan Whitehead at the 14, broke a tackle by S Tony Adams at the six, then split two more Jets defenders inside the five before pounding into the end zone. Did you notice the downfield 12 carries for 64 yards.
S Ronnie Hickman - One pick, three moves, seven points. We are buying this every time from the rookie who went through seven rounds and never heard his name called in the NFL draft.
First-half offense - The Jets were billed as this monster defense featuring All-World corner Sauce Gardner who would shut down Cleveland’s passing attack. But the only growling was when their defensive unit came off the field wondering why they were on the field for so long. In the first half, the Browns’ running game did their business, but even without WR Amari Cooper, QB Joe Flacco used TEs Njoku and Jordan Akins plus former New York teammate WR Elijah Moore for big gains and key third down conversions. 367 total yards in the first half alone.
RG Wyatt Teller - Had several excellent pulls to lead Ford. The long run early in the fourth quarter was Teller taking out DT Solomon Thomas who had just two tackles.
QB Joe Flacco - Had a very good first two quarters with exceptional play action, but the pick by Jermaine Johnson right before the half was a tough lesson. The tight end screen to Njoku was busted up, yet Flacco pushed the issue. At the time, the Browns had a commanding 27-7 lead and the interception suddenly put hope back into a team that was showing signs of defeat already. The next image you see, is Flacco being clubbed in the face by DT Quinnen Williams, flushed left as if to run, then spots Ford who had beaten LB Quincy Williams, then had plenty of turf before breaking the tackle of Adams for the touchdown. 296 passing yards in the first half alone. Flacco’s ability to go through his progressions paid off and in the first half, it was all Cleveland. The touchdown pass to Ford was all touch and his ability to see the field and not try to run the ball but allow his playmakers to take hits. But the second half was all vanilla and allowing the Jets to control the game clock as Flacco had just 13 second-half passing yards. Sacked only once and finished going 19-29 for 309 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and a 121.2 QB rating.
Defense - Just 46 rushing yards in the first half with 117 passing yards. The biggest stat was keeping WR Garrett Wilson to just 35 yards in the first half (50 for the game). In the second quarter, the Jets had a first-and-goal at the six and ended up with a blocked kick for no points. Both Za’Darius Smith and Myles Garrett had sacks that killed good drives for the Jets. Then Alex Wright had a sack as the trail man and the defense was stingy on third down plays as New York only converted 1-12 all game. The Jets snapped the ball early on the fourth-and-one from Cleveland’s 25 with 10:53 left in the game with the stuff by DT Jordan Elliott (12-man penalty gave them the first down anyway). Stopped another fourth down play with just over five minutes left in the game. The pick six by Hickman was a game-changer. Two other interceptions were dropped in the game.
Myles Garrett - The big man finally got another sack as he made a nice inside move on LT Mekhi Becton and was on QB Trevor Siemian before he had any setup quickly. With 12:18 in the third quarter Garrett almost had Hall for a huge loss but just barely missed him on the reach. Seems like every quarter Becton had a false start in an attempt to cut down Garrett’s pass rush time including three in the second half alone. Just missed another sack in the fourth quarter.
C Ethan Pocic - Jets DT Quinnen Williams is a monster of a man and one of the best at this position. Yet, the TV announcers only mentioned his name twice all game because Pocic handled the 303-pound frame of the defensive tackle all game. And this was without guard help. Was able to get the linebacker on the second level on two Ford runs.
LB Sione Takitaki - Very active all night although most tackles did not have the game-status variety. His playing for Anthony Walker is a blessing with his speed. Led all Browns defenders with 12 total tackles with one batted pass.
Fourth-and-four play - The Browns were already up six points, and got the following kickoff as a fumble recovery. The drive went to the seven with a first-and-goal, then the four, and on third down RB Kareem Hunt was stuffed. Facing a fourth down at the four, head coach Kevin Stefanski went for it. The offense had already had a first and goal and could not punch it in on three attempts. If three plays to make seven yards do not achieve optimal results, does it not make sense to get three points? What the Browns got instead was - nothing. The playoffs are ahead - the offense will need to build points since that still wins the game.
We’re in one of those weird timelines where everything goes wrong but it all works out— Glen (@monkey2Ybanana) December 29, 2023
Turnovers instead of control of the game - With 11:55 left in the game, RB Pierre Strong fumbled with the Browns up by three scores. Strong had only one hand on the ball as he entered a three-man scrum to which the ball was knocked out. This put new hope into a defeated and frustrated Jets team instead as they drove the field to kick three points and cut the lead to two possessions. The interception early by Flacco gave New York a prime starting position and stopped another promising drive plus gave their opponent new hope.
Second half offense - What happened? Which Kool-Aid was served at halftime? Working towards almost 400 yards in the first half with the second most points scored in a single half in the team’s history, yet going into the fourth quarter the offense had just 11 plays, with just over five minutes of clock used, and 43 total yards. The three points scored were after New York failed on another fourth down play and gave Cleveland great field position. Six words: Thank goodness for this Browns’ defense. All great playoff teams play four quarters.
Milk Bones – Every New Year’s Day I have the same question: “How did I get home?”
K Riley Patterson - The easiest kick is the PAT. His first just barely made it inside the right upright. The second one hit that same upright and one more just barely squeezed by. Made his only field goal attempt from 33 yards. Would like to see him tested on a 50+. His kickoffs seem to nosedive and fall short as four were returned.
LB Matthew Adams - After Cleveland went up 13-7, the kickoff by Riley Patterson landed on the two and was taken upfield by Israel Abanikanda. As he turned towards the right side, Adams swiped the ball with a full hand and forearm for the fumble recovered by special teams ace Mike Ford. No points were gotten, but the play was so heads up for Adams.
WR Elijah Moore - What a great first half that ended before it began. His five catches for 61 yards showed what the rest of the game would become especially with the rapport he and Flacco were developing. Then he became injured and was ruled out with a concussion. His eight-yard touchdown catch started as a back shoulder fade to which Moore had beaten his man NB Michael Carter with a nifty move just inside the end zone. 61 yards on just six catches but would have been a career game.
S D’Anthony Bell - Had a nice stonewall tackle on Hall for minus three yards on a first-and-goal at the 9:58 mark of the third quarter which set the tone to keep the Jets out of the end zone and attempt to score three points instead but was blocked. The zero points on the drive began with Bell. He ran Xavier Gibson out of bounds as the talented receiver had gotten loose on the jet sweep and if he could have turned it up, would have had good real estate but Bell took the angle and shut off the escape route. Great open-field tackle on Gipson at Cleveland’s 20 and a shot at the end zone if Bell doesn’t secure the tackle with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Played quite a bit of snaps as he rotated in and finished with five tackles and two tackles for loss.
DT Shelby Harris - Steady inside gap play and had the block on the field goal in the third quarter to stymie a drive. Three total tackles and keeping the Jets to just 107 rushing yards.
P Matt Haack - Not bad at all. Three punts for a 51.7 average in his first game in the stadium by the lake. Two were returned so his hang time needs improvement.
Some of the Browns’ best players are on IR and would have a killer roster. With this current roster of backups, retreads, Band-Aids, and guys waiting on a phone call, can Cleveland make some noise in the playoffs?
This poll is closed
Surprisingly - yes. There is no quit
Maybe win one, then done
Are you serious? Not a chance