There was plenty of blame to go around in the Jets' 37-20 loss at Cleveland on Thursday night, from a struggling first-half defense to an offense that scored on its opening drive but then couldn't get into the red zone to a dozen more penalties.
But head coach Robert Saleh, as the man in charge of the product, put the responsibility on his shoulders.
On the defense's shortcomings, he said: "There was a series of, I wouldn't say miscommunications, but we were slightly off in regards to technique. It wasn't good enough all the way across the board. I'm looking inward to me and what we can do better for these short-week games."
The coach expanded on the technique issues. "For sure, they can happen. Technique stuff happens every play, every game, regardless," he said. "But we pride ourselves on precision. I have to look inward for these short weeks, make sure we keep that precision from a play-calling standpoint. There are a lot of things where I have to look inward first before I start looking at our players."
Saleh wasn't going to lean hard on left tackle Mekhi Becton, either. Becton had his hands full with Browns DE Myles Garrett, who had four of the home team's five hits and one of the two sacks on QB Trevor Siemian. Becton was whistled for three penalties, one early for holding, two late for false starts.
"Myles is a phenomenal player," Saleh said. "He was jumping back and forth [from RE to LE]. They were making it difficult trying to target him from a protection standpoint. We had our opportunities. But from a coaching standpoint, I'm going to look at that first and see if we helped them enough. Myles is an All-Pro player. He's going to win his share."
The outcome that dropped the Jets to 6-10 wasn't all because of shortcomings by Saleh and his staff, but the point was delivered in his somber looking-in-the-mirror responses to most questions. He's coaching a team that posted two decent home victories in the past three games — the crushing of Houston and the big early lead and late rescue for the win over Washington. The Jets may have thought they could catch the Browns in a tough road spot, especially with the pregame announcement that No. 1 WR Amari Cooper had been deactivated due to a heel condition.
But the loss of another key part to their team didn't seem to slow down Cleveland and new/old QB Joe Flacco, who threw for his fourth consecutive 300-yard game in his fourth consecutive win as the Browns' fourth starting signal-caller this season. Flacco even had 296 of his 309 passing yards in the first half, finding TE David Njoku for five of his six catches and for 128 of his 134 yards.
"They're playing with a lot of confidence. They've got a lot of juice, a lot of energy. And Flacco in these months is just going to get better and better," said Saleh, who coached Flacco as his backup and sometimes starter in 2021 and '22. "You can see he's getting more and more comfortable with the offense. Hats off to him. He did a great job."
As for Njoku's first-half success, the coach also noted some extenuating circumstances.
"The first third-and-15, it was a checkdown, we were just a little bit out of position, he cuts in and makes a good play," Saleh said. "The second explosive was a shallow cross and on the exchange, we lose our footing. He's a good player, but it was more that I feel like we had more control over what we allowed."
The shame of it for the Jets was that, as had happened in a few previous games, the defense was ineffective in the first 30 minutes in yielding 367 yards and 27 of Cleveland's 34 points. Then in the Browns' more careful and the Jets' more potent second half, the host team managed 61 yards and three points.
"I appreciate the way the guys came out and fought in the second half," Saleh said of his D. "Obviously the first half wasn't good enough."
Saleh is just not going to throw his players or coaches under the team buses at a postgame news conference without him rolling under the Greyhound chassis first. That was no clearer than in his short responses to questions about the 12 penalties for 74 yards that came four days after the 14 flags for 150 yards marked off against the Jets against the Commanders.
"I've got to figure it out," the HC said somberly, even though the players were the ones committing the fouls. "A lot of presnap stuff today, a lot of presnap stuff. I've got to figure it out."
See the best game action photos during Thursday night's game against the Browns.