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 next Sunday if they’re going to end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
On fourth-and-1 with 1:18 remaining and 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) sealed their second straight victory after an 0-13 start.
It was a rough week for the Browns, who haven’t been in the postseason since 2002 and entered without seven players 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.
Despite being short-handed, the Browns nearly erased a 20-3 deficit. But the Jets were able to hang on.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Browns had third-and-6 from their 15 when Basham sacked Mayfield and knocked the ball out and John Franklin-Myers recovered, giving the Jets the ball at the Browns 17 with 3:14 left. 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.
New York clinched the second overall pick in April’s draft. Jamison Crowder caught a touchdown pass and threw one to Braxton Berrios on a razzle-dazzle play, and Sam Darnold threw a touchdown pass to Chris Herndon.
After Cody Parkey kicked a 44-yard field goal on Cleveland’s second offensive possession, 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.
It was the second pass of Crowder’s career. He had an incompletion as a rookie with Washington in 2015.
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.
It didn’t take long for the Jets to take advantage. Darnold found Herndon wide open in the back of the end zone. Ficken’s extra point was blocked by ex-Jets lineman Sheldon Richardson, but New York was out to a stunning 13-3 lead early in the second quarter.
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. That drive was extended by a roughing the kicker call on Jovante Moffatt, who ran into punter Braden Mann.
Mayfield then marched the Browns downfield, and Nick Chubb’s 1-yard run made it 20-10 with 2:56 left in the third quarter.
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.
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.
The Browns’ trip to New Jersey was delayed Saturday after starting linebacker B.J. Goodson was placed on the COVID-19 list 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 went three-and-out on their opening drive, ending their franchise-record streak of scoring on their first offensive possession at eight games (three touchdowns and five field goals).
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 third quarter. Gore came in needing 48 yards rushing to join Smith and Payton. His 4-yard run gave him exactly 16,000.
Browns: LB Tae Davis left with an ankle injury.
Jets: OL Josh Andrews left with a groin injury.
Browns: Host AFC North champion Pittsburgh next Sunday.
Jets: Wrap up their season at New England next Sunday.