Browns’ playoff chances take hit with loss
Published 8:21 pm Sunday, December 27, 2020
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Baker Mayfield coughed up the ball — and the Cleveland Browns’ chances to wrap up a playoff spot.
After a 23-16 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, the Browns will need to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at home next Sunday if they’re going to end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
“I failed this team,” said Mayfield, who answered one question during his postgame Zoom call and left.
“I put three balls on the ground, two of them that they recovered and the other on fourth down — just hold onto the damn ball. Plain and simple. I have to hold onto the damn ball.”
On fourth-and-1 with the short-handed Browns (10-5) driving for the potential tying score, Mayfield tried to push forward for the first down but lost the ball when Tarell Basham smacked into him. Kareem Hunt recovered, but by rule, Mayfield was the only one who could advance the ball — and the quarterback was short of the first down.
The call was upheld by video review, and the Jets (2-13) got the ball with 1:18 left and sealed their second straight victory after an 0-13 start.
“This one’s on me,” Mayfield reiterated. “But here’s the thing: This one is going to sting for a day or two. But we got the Steelers to win and get in.”
It was a rough week for the Browns, who haven’t been in the postseason since 2002 and entered without seven players because of COVID-19 issues — including Jarvis Landry and three other wide receivers, and rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills.
Cleveland had to call up several players from the practice squad and coach Kevin Stefanski ran a walk-through in a parking lot near the team’s hotel to get some of the new players up to speed on the game plan.
“It’s pretty much 2020 — all in 24 hours,” Mayfield said. “It’s not an excuse.”
Despite being short-handed, the Browns nearly erased a 20-3 deficit. But the Jets were able to hang on.
“It had nothing to do with the guys we didn’t have,” Stefanski said. “We got flat-out beat, flat-out outcoached with the players we had, myself included.”
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Cleveland had third-and-6 from its 15 when Basham sacked Mayfield and knocked the ball out and John Franklin-Myers recovered. Sam Ficken’s 34-yard field goal with 2:52 remaining gave New York a 23-16 lead.
Ficken sent the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving Cleveland the ball at the 40. The Browns got down to the 16, until the defense came up big again to end it.
“This team doesn’t have any quit in them,” Jets center Connor McGovern said.
New York clinched the second overall pick in April’s draft. Jamison Crowder caught a touchdown pass and threw one to Braxton Berrios, and Sam Darnold was 16 of 32 for 175 yards, including TD passes to Crowder and Chris Herndon.
The Jets took a 7-3 lead with some rare razzle-dazzle with 34 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Ty Johnson took the handoff from Darnold and flipped the ball to Crowder, who rolled to his right and zipped a pass downfield to a wide-open Berrios — who had been lined up as the tailback — for a 43-yard touchdown.
New York got the ball right back when Frankie Luvu sacked Mayfield and popped the ball away — and right into the hands of Folorunso Fatukasi.
The Jets took advantage when Darnold found Herndon wide open in the back of the end zone. Ficken’s extra point was blocked by ex-Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, but New York was out to a stunning 13-3 lead early in the second quarter.
After the Jets made it 20-3 on Crowder’s 30-yard touchdown catch, New York had a chance to extend the lead, but Ficken’s 50-yard field goal try was blocked — again by Richardson.
Mayfield then marched the Browns downfield, and Nick Chubb’s 1-yard run made it 20-10.
Cleveland made it back-to-back touchdown drives with Hunt running it in from 4 yards out. But Parkey hit the left upright, and the Browns trailed 20-16 with 12:38 remaining.
“You win next week and you’re in,” Stefanski said. “What’s ahead of us is everything we set out to do this season.”
The Browns learned Sunday morning they would be without Wills because of an illness. He had been placed on the COVID-19 list on Thursday and activated Saturday, but was then downgraded Sunday.
Starting linebacker B.J. Goodson was placed on the COVID-19 list Saturday and five other players, including Landry, were ruled out due to close contact. The others were receivers Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge, and linebacker Jacob Phillips.
The Jets’ Frank Gore became the third player in NFL history to run for 16,000 yards. The 37-year-old Gore joined Pro Football Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton to reach the milestone, doing so with a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter. He left late in the game with a chest injury.
Browns: LBs Tae Davis and Sione Takitaki left with ankle injuries and didn’t return.
Jets: OL Josh Andrews left with a groin injury.
Browns: Host AFC North champion Pittsburgh next Sunday, needing a win to clinch a playoff berth.
Jets: Wrap up their season at New England next Sunday.