After a first half full of struggles on both sides of the ball, the Browns positioned themselves to potentially make a playoff-clinching win Sunday in New York.
The Browns, who were without four wide receivers and two linebackers Sunday after a positive COVID-19 test forced them to be placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list as high-risk-close-contacts, trailed 20-3 at one point Sunday at MetLife Stadium. They closed the gap to four points late in the fourth quarter, but they couldn't make enough big plays to come out on top and suffered a 23-16 loss.
Here were the biggest plays of a tough Week 16 result:
1. Darnold throws to Crowder for third Jets TD
After allowing 178 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, the Browns defense couldn't afford to come out of the locker room with a rough start to the second half.
The Jets, leading 13-3 at halftime, needed to be kept out of the end zone for the Browns to make their deficit manageable in the third quarter, but Jets quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Frank Gore went to work and helped New York build an eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Darnold lofting a 30-yard pass to wide receiver Jamison Crowder. The defense failed to have a man on Crowder as he neared the end zone, and Darnold made them pay the price.
The touchdown expanded the Jets' lead to 20-3, and Cleveland needed to be perfect on its halftime adjustments to catch up.
2. Richardson blocks 50-yard FG attempt
The Browns' offense spent the first 40 minutes against the Jets struggling to generate chunk plays. The defense, meanwhile, couldn't slow down the Jets' offense.
But just when the Browns badly needed a game-changing play, the special teams unit delivered.
Sheldon Richardson was the playmaker. He made a big leap on a 50-yard Jets field-goal attempt and managed to land his hand as kicker Sam Ficken's attempt passed the line of scrimmage. The block was Richardson's second of the game — he blocked the PAT attempt on the Jets' second touchdown of the afternoon.
He stopped three more points with another block, and it gave the Browns a much-needed surge in both the offensive and defensive departments.
3. Chubb breaks the plane for Browns' first TD
The Browns' rushing attack wasn't able to do much against the Jets' defense for most of the first three quarters. New York limited Cleveland to just 4 rushing yards in the first half, and its success against the run continued for a chunk of the second half.
But the Browns still handed the ball to the running backs as they neared the goal-line in the final few minutes of the third quarter. Quarterback Baker Mayfield used his running backs as passing targets to help position the Browns deep in Jets territory, and when he reached the 1-yard line, he handed it off to Chubb, who piled through the line of scrimmage and into the end zone for the six points.
That was the spark the Browns had long been looking for, and Chubb answered. But there was still plenty of work left.
4. Hunt puts Browns within a possession with 4-yard TD
The Browns' running backs continued to find ways to lead Cleveland's comeback efforts despite facing a tough test from the Jets defense. This time, the leader was Kareem Hunt.
Chubb opened the drive with a 16-yard run, which was the Browns' longest run of the game at that point, and Hunt ended it with a 4-yard touchdown run. The Browns continued to find big plays at key moments thanks to a few big throws from Mayfield, but their biggest break arguably came on third-and-10 from the Jets' 26.
Mayfield attempted a pass to wide receiver Marvin Hall that fell incomplete, but the Jets were penalized for defensive pass interference that kept the drive alive. Chubb, Hunt and Mayfield rushed for 11 yards on the next three plays to move closer to the end zone, and Hunt took the final carry to push the Browns in.
The extra-point attempt was unsuccessful, but the Browns still cut their deficit to 20-16 with just over 12 minutes left.
5. Jets recover Mayfield fumble deep in Browns territory
One of the biggest third-down plays of the Browns' year did not bode well for Baker Mayfield.
As the quarterback stepped up in the pocket on third-and-6 from Cleveland's 15, Tarell Basham, who forced a fumble from Mayfield earlier in the game, approached from behind and batted at his arm. Mayfield was rearing up for a pass, but the ball was out of his hands before he could move his arm forward.
The ball rolled forward, and John Franklin-Myers scooped it up to complete the turnover. The defense made a stop with a field goal that extended the Jets' lead to 23-16, and the Browns needed a touchdown with under three minutes for a chance to win.
6. Browns stopped short on fourth down
On the biggest fourth down play of the season, the Browns found a way to move the ball past the first down marker.
But it didn't count.
On fourth-and-1 from the Jets' 16-yard line, Mayfield attempted to make a quarterback sneak and give Cleveland another four chances to reach the end zone for a game-tying score. The ball, however, was jarred loose from Mayfield and fell into the hands of Hunt, who took the ball and stretched across the first-down line.
The ruling, though, was that no player other than Mayfield could recover and advance the ball. That meant the ball would be ruled short of the first down. And that meant the Jets had forced a turnover on downs.
The 23-16 result was sealed on New York's ensuing kneel-downs.