In what was probably the most compelling NFL game this season, the Browns gave up a touchdown with under twenty seconds remaining in over time to lose to the Jets yesterday. With all the story-lines and emotions this game evoked swirling in the Lake Erie breeze, there was a little bit of everything during the contest. Highs and lows for both teams. Highlight reel plays, costly mistakes and even costly non-mistakes.
Lets start in the first half when neither team was playing much defense. In fact, there was not one punt by either team in the entire half. Both teams exchanged field goals on their opening possessions. On the Browns second offensive possession, RB Peyton Hillis fumbled at the tail end of a 6-yard carry. The fumble was recovered by Jets LB David Harris. This is the second straight week that Hillis has lost a fumble, and it is a trend that just can not continue. Fumbling is a common problem with runners like Hillis, who refuse to go down and constantly battle for extra yardage. Without losing any of his aggression, Hillis simply needs to recognize when a play is over and lock up the ball.
The Jets, who were afforded great field position due to Hillis’ fumble, were not able to manage a first down. This forced Kicker Nick Folk to attempt a long 48-yard field goal, which he missed. One of three misses for Folk on the day. The Browns were quick to counter, driving the ball 62-yards in under three minutes. Hillis atoned for his mistake by capping the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run off left tackle.
The Jets, however, followed with a 76-yard touchdown drive of their own. The key plays on the drive were a 21-yard pass to former Browns WR Braylon Edwards and a 25-yard pass to WR Jerricho Cotchery for the score. Edwards, who Browns fans thought to be overly querulous during his time in Cleveland, was booed and jeered relentlessly every time he touched the ball. The only time he was cheered was when he dropped a pass during pre-game warm ups. On the touchdown pass that ended this drive, Jets QB Mark Sanchez was able to narrowly escape a sack before finding a wide open Cotchery. The Browns had were able to slip defenders into the Jets backfield all game. Sanchez deserves a lot of credit for shaking off tackles to make several huge completions. The Browns had two sacks in the game, but that number easily could have been five or more if it were not for the impressive play of the Jets’ young quarterback.
The Browns recaptured the lead on the following possession as their drive stalled on the Jets 5-yard line and they were forced to kick a short field goal. On the drive, WR Joshua Cribbs, who is the Browns most dangerous offensive weapon, injured his foot fighting for yards at the tail end of a 37-yard reception. He did not return. Things got worse for the Browns as the Jets took the ball 80-yards, and Sanchez scored on a 1-yard QB keeper to give the Jets a 17-13 lead going into the half.
The Jets opened the second half with yet another long drive. They took the ball 60-yards in over nine minutes, but came away empty handed after Folk missed a short 24-yard field goal.
Then, the defenses took over the game. After both teams opened the game with nine possessions combined without a punt. The following five combined possessions consisted of only one first down; each one of the five ending in a punt.
The Jets offense was the first to regain their footing. Dominating the time of possession by a twenty minute margin on the day, the Jets pieced together yet another long drive beginning with 10:27 left in the forth quarter. Taking 7:45 off the clock, the Jets kicked a 25-yard field goal giving them a seven point lead with just over two minutes to play.
Looking like they had taken over the game, it was on the Jets defense to keep rookie QB Colt McCoy and the Browns offense out of the end zone just one last time to ice the win. McCoy would not go quietly, and he showed the kind of moxie that is not often seen in rookie quarterbacks, and the kind of confidence that has Browns fans beaming over their future. Leaning on his atheletic tight ends Ben Watson and Evan Moore, McCoy orchestrated a 59-play scoring drive that ended in a 3-yard toss to WR Mohamed Massaquoi. Watson and Moore combined for 55 receiving yards on the drive. Massaquoi had only 8-yards receiving on the day, but he managed to escape ‘Revis Island’ just long enough to make the huge catch to tie the game with under a minute left.
With all the drama that occurred in this game, overtime seemed like a fitting way for it to be decided. The Jets got the ball first, but could not get a first down and were forced to punt. The Browns offense picked up where they left off. They seemed to have the Jets on the run as they drove the ball to the edge of field goal range. The critical play of the game came on a 3rd and 4, the Browns had the ball on the Jets 46-yard line. McCoy hit WR Chansi Stuckey. Stuckey picked up the first down, but while fighting for extra yards, Jets Safety Drew Coleman ripped the ball out of Stuckey’s hands. The Jets recovered the ball on their own 34-yard line.
Game over right? Wrong. The Browns, in the face of that heart-breaking fumble, still showed resilience. They slowed the Jets just enough to force a long 48-yard field goal, which Folk missed to the right. Their offense, however, could not pick up a first down and was forced to punt. On the following Jets possession, another Browns rookie made a nice play, which turned out to cost his team the game. CB Joe Haden, who has played well all year, intercepted a bomb from Sanchez on the Browns 3-yard line. If Haden would have just knocked down the third down pass, the Jets would have been forced to punt, and perhaps the Browns offense would not have been so backed up. A mistake which no player could legitimately be faulted for, especially a rookie like Haden.
As it stood, the Browns got the ball deep in their own territory with a 1:35 on the clock. Choosing to play aggressively and go for the win rather then the tie, the Browns tried a deep pass on first down which fell incomplete. This aggression came back to haunt them as the Jets were able to force a punt. After an 18-yard return by Jim Leonard, the Jets had the ball on the Browns 37-yard line with sixteen seconds to play. Needing just one completion to get into field goal range, Sanchez hit WR Santonio Holmes on a quick slant. Holmes had other ideas though and he slipped through the arms of Browns’ CB Eric Wright, and ducked inside Safety T.J. Ward finding the end zone as time expired.
The volatile momentum shifts that occurred throughout the game made this a truly thrilling contest. It was certainly not a perfect effort by either team, but both teams left it all on the field which was a joy to watch. The best play of the game, which absolutely must be mentioned, came in overtime. On 3rd and 9, Sanchez pulled his Houdini act eluding not one, but two aspiring sackers. On the other end of the play, Jerricho Cotchery pulled his groin and started to limp off the field. Seeing that Sanchez managed to keep the play alive and fire a bullet down the middle, Cotchery did an about face and dove full extension making a spectacular catch for a first down. These hustling in the face of adversity type plays made this a game both teams fans could be proud of.
With the Browns maturing and coming together as a team more and more each week, it should be very interesting to see how they finish out the season. It seems inevitable that McCoy will get the nod to start the rest of the games. Eight out of the nine teams the Browns have faced this season currently having winning records. Their schedule has definitely been a nightmare by any standard. They have taken the initial blow, however, and they are still standing. The rest of their schedule is somewhat more manageable and it will be interesting to see what kind of counter-punch the bruising Browns can muster.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.