635 Days in the Making
Yes, the Browns finally won a game. SPOILER ALERT: They were going to win another game eventually! In fact, they're going to win even more games this season. In last week's column, I noted how this team could easily be unbeaten on the young season. They have some talent on both sides of the ball. So when I see words like "epic" or "disastrous" to describe this loss for the Jets, I have to almost chuckle. Let's remember the Jets are also a team with a rookie quarterback, trying to build the program back up to being a consistent winner. You're going to have games like Thursday night. Hopefully the experiences gained from tough defeats will prove beneficial in the long run.
It was a mixed bag performance for Sam Darnold. And these games are going to happen for a 21-year-old rookie QB. This was a Browns defense that made a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees, look ordinary the previous two weeks. Jeremy Bates devised a game plan featuring a lot of short, controlled throws to coincide with a healthy dose of the run game. I thought Darnold did a nice job of hanging in the pocket in the face of pressure and was able to protect the football until the final two minutes of the game. Afterwards, he owned up to his performance, saying he needed to be better. It was also nice to see him connect with Jermaine Kearse on a couple of big plays, as the veteran WR continues to work himself back into the flow of the offense. Overall through three games, there have still been way more positive than negative from Number 14.
Tale of Two Halves
In the first two weeks, the Jets outscored the opposition 43-7 in the second half. In fact, they engineered TD drives on their first possession of the third quarter in each contest. Against the Browns, they were unable to muster that same production. Did Baker Mayfield entering the game spark the Cleveland offense? Absolutely. He also was helped out by some tremendous individual grabs by his wide receivers, namely Jarvis Landry. Todd Bowles alluded to the fact the defense was gassed in the 4th Quarter. The three games in 11 days perhaps caught up with them.
Some untimely mistakes from veteran players came back to haunt the Jets on Thursday. I thought the turning point of the game was Robby Anderson's second fumble in as many weeks. Yes, I know it only led to a Browns field goal to trim the lead to 14-6, but it gave Cleveland some life. On their next series, the Browns drove the ball down the field with Carlos Hyde punching it in from 1-yard out to make it 14-12. The Jets stopped the initial 2-point try, but Mo Claiborne was flagged for holding which allowed Cleveland another attempt that they cashed in on to tie the game at 14. In a close game with little margin for error, you can ill afford to make these kinds of mistakes.
Once again the play of the special teams continues to make its mark. Kevin Pierre-Louis' blocked punt late in the first quarter gave the Jets offense great field position inside the Cleveland 30-yard line, resulting in the opening TD run by Isaiah Crowell. Lachlan Edwards averaged almost 50 yards a punt, pinning the Browns inside the 20 on a few occasions. Avery Williamson had his best game as a Jet, by far. He was all over the field, recording 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks. And Bilal Powell had a nice night running the ball, displaying his elusiveness. I would've maybe liked to see more of Powell's contributions in the passing game.
No team in the NFL had to encounter an early schedule as daunting as the Jets. Three games in 11 days is a huge undertaking for any team, culminating with a Thursday night affair on the road which is never an easy thing to do. The team will surely welcome the extra few days off from both a mental and physical standpoint. But the task doesn't get any easier. They'll be back at it a week from Sunday down in Jacksonville against a Jaguars team that looks to be one of the best in all the NFL.