Thursday Night Football started out as a heavyweight fight between two contenders carefully feeling each other out. It evolved into a fight close to being stopped on cuts as the Jets landed some big blows to open a 14-0 second-quarter lead.
Then it turned into a match between draft heavy hitters — third overall pick Sam Darnold was suddenly looking at a 30-minutes-plus showdown against first overall pick Baker Mayfield after Browns QB Tyrod Taylor left to be examined in the locker room for a possible concussion late in the first half
It wasn't pretty, at least not for Darnold and his offense after that two-TD lead. It came down to a two-minute-drill in search of a touchdown. Their first try got only to the Jets 37, from where Darnold threw an interception to LB Joe Schobert. Their last gasp, from their 5 with 56 seconds left, died with another pick, by CB Terrance Mitchell
The Browns ended their 0-18-1 streak over three seasons with a come-from-behind 21-17 win over the Jets, who fell to 1-2 and now have a long week to lick their wounds and get ready for Game 4 at Jacksonville on Sept. 30.
Here are eight chronological observations leading up to the two-minute conclusion:
1. D-Lightful Start
The Jets' defense began by harassing Browns QB Tyrod Taylor early. With S Jamal Adams applying some blitz pressure, DL Steve McLendon swatting away one pass behind the LOS, and LB Avery Williamson getting his first sack as a Jet and the Jets' fifth sack in five quarters, Taylor threw incompletions on his first six passes. And the Jets D posted two 3-and-outs in the Browns' first three series.
2. Special Delivery
With Darnold and the offense scuffling for most of the first quarter, the Jets needed a big play from elsewhere ... such as special teams. Kevin Pierre-Louis, activated last week, answered the call, breaking in and getting a piece of Britton Colquitt's punt, setting the Jets up at the Browns 28 late in the opening frame. That set up Isaiah Crowell, a productive Browns back from 2014-17, to take it to his old team on a left sweep that was wide open for a 7-yard TD run and the Jets' 7-0 lead.
3. Dawg ... Pound
Getting the ball back after Cleveland's fifth punt, the Jets took a different approach, pounding away on the ground off LT Kelvin Beachum's side at the right side of the Browns defense. They moved 63 yards on 10 plays, with eight of them runs by Crowell and Bilal Powell. Crowell did the honors, going left again from 2 yards out, following the block of 300-pound center/"fullback" Jonotthan Harrison, for a 14-0 lead, tying the Jets' largest first-half lead at Cleveland all-time.
4. One vs. Three
With Taylor (4-for-14 for 19 yards passing and four sacks) exiting, Mayfield came on and gave FirstEnergy a jolt of electricity. He moved the hosts 39 yards on six plays late in the first half to position newly signed rookie free agent K Greg Joseph to put his first try, a 45-yard field goal, just inside the left upright to trim the Jets' lead to 14-3, which they took into the locker room with them.
5. The Lead Shrinks
The Jets avoided a turnover against the NFL's top takeaway team — until WR Robby Anderson coughed up his second fumble after a reception in two games, with rookie CB Denzel Ward pulling the ball out and returning it to the Jets 8. Fortunately for the Green & White, their crack red zone defense of the preseason and the opener reemerged to stop the Browns cold on three plays. Joseph came on for a 27-yarder, which he barely tucked inside the left upright, and the Jets' lead was down to 14-6 with 5:21 left in the third quarter.
6. All Knotted Up
Cleveland came right back on its next drive. Mayfield hit Jarvis Landry for the game's longest play, a 29-yard pass to the Jets 1 despite Doug Middleton's defense. Then Carlos Hyde scored. Then Landry returned the favor by taking a toss out of the Wildcat and throwing the two-point tying pass to ... Mayfield. The third quarter ended at a 14-14 deadlock.
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7. Answering Three
Needing an answer as the fourth quarter started, Darnold engineered a drive that included a 14-yarder on third-and-10 to Jermaine Kearse, then an 11-yarder on third-and-7 to Quincy Enunwa to the CLE-17, finally a 9-yarder to Kearse on third-and-12 but to the Browns 10. On came Jason Myers for a 28-yard field goal, making him 5-for-5 on the season and putting the Jets back on top 17-14 with 8:56 to play.
8. The Baker Dagger
The Mayfield offense continued to operate well and frustrate the Green & White defense, driving 74 yards to first-and-goal at the Jets 1. After stopping two plays cold, the D yielded Hyde's second touchdown to put Cleveland up 21-17 with 2:04 to play. Darnold and the Jets needed a two-minute-drill to avert a fall-from-ahead loss. They got two shots to score that necessary six. They didn't get it.