Joe Flacco, Brown tackle Jets for playoff berth

CLEVELAND — Joe Flacco's improbable revival season reached another level on Thursday Night Football as he led the Cleveland Browns to a playoff berth with a 37-20 victory over the New York Jets.

Flacco became the first player in NFL history to have 250 passing yards and multiple passing touchdowns in each of his first five games with the franchise. The Browns signed Flacco on November 20 after Deshaun Watson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on November 12.

The Browns led 34-17 at halftime, their highest halftime high since 2019, when the 49ers and Saints combined for 55 points in Week 14 (49ers won 48-46), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are playoff-bound.

The Browns destroyed the New York Jets to secure their first AFC playoff berth since 2020.

Cleveland, which has achieved four straight wins, is moving forward at just the right time before the start of the season.

QB breakdownn: Flacco again was great. For the fourth time in his five starts, he led the Browns down the field on the opening drive for a touchdown. Then he capped off Cleveland's 34-point scoring barrage in the first half by scrambling out of the pocket to his left to find Jerome Ford wide open for a 50-yard touchdown throw. In the first half alone, Flacco threw for three touchdowns and passed for 296 yards, the most in any half of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He now has more than 300 receiving yards in each victory in his four-game winning streak.

Buy on breakout performancee: Tight end David Njoku is playing the best ball of his career. With star receiver Amari Cooper (heel) out, Njoku rallied with 113 yards in the first quarter. This alone was the second-best receiving game of his career. Njoku has four touchdowns over his last four games and has proven to be one of the best receiving threats in the league.

Pivotal play: Rookie safety Ronnie Hickman intercepted Trevor Siemian for a 30-yard touchdown from six in the first quarter. That gave the Browns a 20-7 lead that put the Jets on their heels the rest of the way. –Jake Trotter

Next match: at Bengals (TBD, Sunday, Jan. 7)

New York Jets

The idea that Aaron Rodgers' expected return in 2024 will magically fix the New York Jets — the company's line — is woefully misguided. They have too many problems for one player to solve, many of which were showcased in an embarrassing prime-time loss.

In addition to the usual mistakes — sloppy penalties, questionable play calls, shaky game management, etc. — the Jets were undermined by the team's supposed strength. Their third-down defense looked unprepared and Flacco lit them up.

They had no answers for a Cleveland offense that was down to the fourth quarterback position and did not have a wide receiver (Cooper) and a top back (Nick Chubb). However, the 38-year-old Flacco played like he did in 2012, the year he led the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl title. The Jets allowed five touchdowns and 367 total yards – in the first half!

The Jets entered the season believing they could recreate the 1985 Bears team. Cue the laugh track.

Robert Saleh's record fell to 17-34 as the Jets (6-10) posted double-digit losses for the fourth straight year.

The worrying trend: The Jets' QB4 (Siemian) was badly outplayed by the Browns' QB4, confirming the question that will haunt the Jets heading into the offseason: Why didn't they re-sign Flacco when Rodgers was injured in Week 1? Flacco is enjoying reviving his career, letting the Jets see first-hand what they could have gotten. Meanwhile, the Jets' quarterback play was among the worst in the league.

The biggest hole in the game plan: OK, we're wrong, considering the collective ineptitude, but the Jets' coverage scheme for tight end David Njoku was terrible. Linebacker CJ Mosley covered him on two big plays in the first quarter, setting the tone for the game. Mosley is a great player, but pass coverage is not his strong point. He allowed three completions for 76 yards as the closest defender, according to Next Gen Stats. Njoku finished with 134 yards on six catches.

Silver lines: Breece Hall was the best player on the field for the Jets. He rushed for 84 yards and scored on a 21-yard reception, continuing his late-season rise. Defensive end Jermaine Johnson made the play of the night, returning the interception 37 yards for a touchdown, and Garrett Wilson became the first Jets player since Keyshawn Johnson (1998-99) to reach 1,000 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons.

Bold predictions: Siemian — not Zach Wilson — will close out the season against the New England Patriots. Even if Wilson finished concussion protocol why would he want to go back to this mess? — Rich Cimini

Next match: at Patriots (TBD, Sunday, Jan. 7)

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