Minus multiple key starters, the Cleveland Browns' defense finally stiffened on the game’s most important play.
The Browns most definitely didn’t dominate one-win Jacksonville on Sunday. Still, the they did just enough to escape with a 27-25 victory to clinch their first non-losing season in 13 years while taking another step toward snapping the league’s longest playoff drought.
Cleveland’s 12 straight years finishing under .500 was tied for the second-longest in NFL history. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1983-1996) had a longer stretch of consecutive losing seasons.
With a record of 8-3, the Browns are now assured of a .500 season, with still five games left to play.
Without star pass rusher Myles Garrett (reserve/COVID-19 list) and Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward (calf injury), the Browns struggled to slow down Jaguars quarterback Mike Glennon, making his first start since 2017.
Glennon threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns. But on the potential game-tying two-point conversion late in the game, safety Andrew Sendejo, who’d been stiffed arm to the ground earlier on the drive and had blood streaming down his face, batted down Glennon’s pass to preserve Cleveland’s lead.
On the ensuing possession that began with just 2;14 left to play, Chubb gained one first down. Then after a holding call negated another, Chubb took a screen pass 13 yards for the first down to seal the win.
QB breakdown: It was another up-and-down performance for Baker Mayfield, who misfired on a couple of critical easy throws, yet also delivered key strikes into traffic. In the first half, Mayfield overthrew a wide-open Rashard Higgins in the end zone, and Cleveland ultimately had to settle for a field goal. Then in the fourth quarter, his third-down attempt was behind Kareem Hunt on a would-be completion that could’ve salted away the game. Hunt was stuffed on the next play, setting up Jacksonville’s final drive. Still, playing in decent weather conditions for the first time this month, Mayfield went a fourth-straight game without an interception. He also completed 19 of 29 passes for 258 yards and a pair of impressive touchdown tosses to Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper. All in all, that was good enough Sunday.
Eye-popping NextGen stat: On Mayfield’s overthrow to Higgins in the end zone, Higgins had a whopping 10.44 yards of separation from the nearest defender when the pass arrived.
Buy on a breakout performance: Coming into the weekend, only Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald had more targets (57) without a touchdown this season than Landry (56). Sunday, Landry got the touchdown, while getting Cleveland’s passing attack rolling with an array of impressive catches on the way to his first 100-yard receiving performance of the season. With Odell Beckham Jr. out for the year with the knee injury, the Browns need Landry to step up. The Pro Bowler showed why he’s a game-changer in the passing game.
Describe the game in two words: Survive, advance. On a day fellow AFC wildcard hopefuls Las Vegas and Indianapolis fell, the Browns did what they needed to do; they are now two games up on the Raiders, and one game up on Indy, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker.