The only thing worse than watching the Cleveland Browns start a season 4-10 is watching them in a glorified junior varsity game against another bad team in Week 16. What happened Sunday between the Browns and New York Jets could only be considered professional football because someone is going to have to pay taxes on the payroll checks.
Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported on Sunday that Jets head coach Rex Ryan gave his team the old, “win one for the about-to-be-fired Gipper” speech. It seems to have worked as the Jets played with passion and a sense on urgency. The Browns, on the other hand, played like a team with more talent but far less drive.
They wasted opportunities to bury the Jets early, and it resulted in the Jets' sixth win of the season at home and quarterback Geno Smith’s best game as a professional.
Here are my takeaways from the Browns' 24-13 loss to the Jets.
When you look at the stats, the Browns defense appears to be one of the best in the NFL. They entered Week 16 eighth in the NFL in total yards allowed, ninth in total passing yards allowed and eighth in total rushing yards allowed.
So then why are they 21st in the league in points allowed per game?
If you ask defensive coordinator Ray Horton, he will tell you to look back at the stats. The real issue is the lack of “clutchness” in his defensive philosophy. It is aggressive to its own detriment.
The Browns once again collapsed at the end of the first half and gave away a 10-point lead. They also have a minus-62 fourth-quarter scoring differential. Those are not the signs of an elite defense.
The Browns are undisciplined in just about every aspect of the game. The players are not the only problem, however. The coaching staff used all three of their timeouts in the first half and there was still 3:24 left to play.
Then safety Tashaun Gipson pushed Jets quarterback Geno Smith out of bounds, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That set up the field goal just before halftime. Tight end Gary Barnidge had a penalty in the fourth quarter that negated a touchdown as well. This cost the Browns four points, as they had to settle for a field goal.
A lot of the issues with Horton’s defense have to do with discipline as well. Missed assignments and over pursuit cause large gains in the running and passing games. We also cannot forget the 12-men-on-the-field penalty against the defense in the fourth quarter.
This game was sloppy all around.
One of the biggest positives for the Browns was newbie running back Edwin Baker. He was intriguing against the Chicago Bears last week but really showed something against the Jets.
Against the third best run defense in the league, he ran for 64 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown. He had the speed to stretch the defense to the sidelines and the toughness to run the ball up the middle as well.
The Browns have suffered from an anemic running game all season long and will undoubtedly ride Baker for the rest of the year. Despite the fact that he was healthy enough to play, Willis McGahee did not receive any playing time.
Early in the third quarter, Browns quarterback Jason Campbell threw a terrible interception in Jets territory that negated points. The Browns were driving and seemed to have the Jets defense on the ropes at that point. Instead of putting at least three points on the board, they gave the Jets the ball around midfield.
On the other side, the Browns did not create any turnovers. The Jets entered Week 16 with the third most turnovers in the NFL. They had given the ball away 29 times this season, and the Browns failed to force one.
Jets quarterback Geno Smith entered the game with 21 interceptions, and the Browns allowed him to throw 36 times for 214 yards and two touchdowns without a single interception.
Former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow started the festivities early this week by running his mouth.
“Really, they can’t guard me,” Winslow told ESPNNewYork.com. “That’s how I feel, and I can’t be guarded, you know?”
He somewhat backed up his words by catching three passes for 35 yards.
The worst came from wide receiver David Nelson, however. He was cut from the Browns during training camp, and boy did he make Cleveland pay for giving up on him.
He caught four passes for 33 yards and two touchdowns. You know this one meant a little more than normal for him.
After a season that has seen Greg Little be spectacularly ineffective, the Browns benched him during the game against the Jets. After dropping an easy touchdown pass in the first quarter and forcing the Browns to settle for three points, he was replaced by wide receiver Brian Tyms.
Little did get some playing time throughout the rest of the game, but he was not in primary packages and was targeted just four times.
The fans have killed Little for his drops throughout his career, but they had been down this season. Unfortunately that has much less to do with his ability and more to do with the dramatic decrease in his targets.
While this was not as bad as last week in Chicago, Josh Gordon was essentially a non-factor for most of the game. He finished with six catches for 97 yards and did not score a touchdown.
The production numbers look fine, but when you dig deeper, the struggles were real on Sunday. He had multiple drops in a crucial part of the first half where the Browns wasted 11 points on two different drives.
He was also much less aggressive to the football than he had been through his record-breaking stretch of games this season. He is finding that teams are being more physical with him off the line of scrimmage, and it is taking him some time to adjust.
As embarrassing as the loss to the Jets is and as tough as it is to watch for Browns fans, they could not afford to win this game. Whether they select a quarterback or not in the draft, their positioning is more important than a meaningless game at this point.
I am never an advocate for tanking at the end of the season, but I am also a realist. If they would have won, then fine, but since they lost, I know there is a silver lining.
The Browns have a legitimate shot at a top-three draft pick next year, and they may end up needing it. If they want to draft one of the quarterbacks who will be available, they will need to be near the top of the draft. The quarterback field continues to dwindle as guys decide one more year of college can help them in the long run.