CLEVELAND -- There are bad losses, and there are really bad losses -- the kind that stick to a team for years, even decades. The New York Jets have experienced a few of those. The Mud Bowl. The Mark Gastineau game in Cleveland. The Fake Spike. The Butt Fumble. And now there's another clunker that will torture their fan base.
After a dominant first half, the Jets were hypnotized by Baker Mayfield's magic and suffered a kick-in-the-gut loss to the Cleveland Browns, 21-17, on Thursday night at FirstEnergy Field. It was the Browns' first victory in 635 days, ending a 19-game winless streak. Let's be clear, the Browns no longer are a laughing stock, but it's the way the Jets lost that will haunt them.
Welcome to Bereave-Land.
“It’s definitely a tough pill to swallow,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “You don’t want your name on the side of that as a loss, knowing the history and all that.”
There was plenty of fault to go around.
Blame coach Todd Bowles, whose team lacked discipline and killer instinct -- shades of last season.
Blame the defense, which ran out of gas and had no answers for Mayfield.
Blame the offensive playcalling, which was too conservative.
Blame Sam Darnold, who definitely wasn’t the best rookie quarterback on the field.
Bottom line: The Jets choked away a 14-0 lead. Wrap your brain around this: Before Thursday night, the Browns were 1-72-1 when trailing by at least 14 points, dating to 2008.
“We lost our composure and I told them we lost our composure,” Bowles said. “They should be pissed off until we play next weekend. I’m taking the whole ballgame. This whole ballgame falls on me.”
They killed themselves with dumb penalties, none bigger than Claiborne's holding penalty on a two-point conversion. They had it stopped, but Claiborne's mistake gave the Browns another try -- which they converted to make it 14-14.
The Jets were embarrassed and fooled by the Browns. Oh, the pain.
“It was more coverage than the play,” Bowles said. “We were on different pages and the coverage was blown.”
With a chance to stage his first come-from-behind win, Darnold ruined the night with two interceptions in the final 1 minute, 27 seconds. Later, Darnold said his performance was “unacceptable.”
Rookies have growing pains; the bigger concern is the rest of the team. They continue to do dumb things, including unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties on running back Isaiah Crowell and cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
“We have some smart players, but we didn’t play smart football,” wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said.
Worse, Sam Darnold, with a chance to stage his first come-from-behind win in the final two minutes, ruined it with an interception. He threw another pick in the final seconds.
The Jets showed some life amid the Mayfield onslaught, taking a 17-14 lead, but they blew that, too, as their surrendered a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. This was their third game in 11 days, a brutal opening schedule, and the fatigue took its toll.
But it never should've come to that. The Jets' offense couldn't get anything going, as Darnold (15-for-31, 169 yards) struggled at times against the Cleveland blitzes. Wide receiver Robby Anderson lost a fumble deep in Jets territory, another killer mistake.
This was an epic collapse by the Jets, who saw their golden boy get outplayed by Cleveland's golden boy. They wasted a brilliant effort by the defense, which battered Tyrod Taylor (four sacks, 10 QB hits) and sent him to the sideline with a concussion. In retrospect, it was the worst thing they could've done. They also blocked a punt that set up a touchdown. No matter. Mayfield energized the Browns and the crowd, and the Jets couldn't figure out how to deal with it.
The heat will be turned up on Bowles, who lost to the Browns for the first time in four meetings. He insisted, “We will be a good football team.”
A tough case to make, considering what just happened.