Making the latest Browns debacle of a season even harder to digest are the blown leads. The three straight fourth-quarter collapses are fresh on everyone’s minds, as a chance at respectability turned into another double-digit-loss season. The defense allowed last-minute touchdowns to lose to Jacksonville and New England, then gave up 21 fourth-quarter points to Chicago last week.
“It’s highly … it’s very disappointing,” defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “You can not play well for three quarters and then come crunch time tighten up.”
Wasting leads has been a trend all season. The Browns (4-10) have led in all but three games, including four times at halftime. The problem is magnified in the fourth quarter, when the Browns have been outscored 128-66. The 62-point differential is the largest in the league, and Horton said it’s become psychological for his players.
“You’ve just got to look at yourself in the mirror and demand more out of yourself,” free safety Tashaun Gipson said. “It’s more so personally with all 11 guys that are going to be out there on the field. I don’t think it’s anything that the coaches can coach.”
The Browns can’t afford another late meltdown, especially to a team that’s been eliminated from the playoffs and has struggling rookie Geno Smith at quarterback. But they can’t sleep on Smith. He has led four winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.
BACK WHERE IT BEGAN
Josh Gordon became a familiar name to football fans this year, as he leads the NFL with 1,467 receiving yards. He introduced himself to the league last year at MetLife Stadium – the site of the Super Bowl in February — in a loss to the Giants. In Week 5 of his rookie season, Gordon caught two passes – for 62 and 20 yards – for the first touchdowns of his career. He returns today to face the Jets.
“I definitely plan on trying to have a big game there,” said Gordon, who had only three catches for 67 yards last week to interrupt the best four-game stretch in NFL history. “It’s a big stage, one of the biggest. I’m definitely excited to go, and I know the rest of the guys are, too. Hopefully I can match what I did there last year.”
Gordon has plenty to play for in the last two games. He has a narrow lead over Detroit’s Calvin Johnson in yardage (18) and also leads the league in yards per game (122.3) and per catch (19.8). With two more monster weeks, he could set the all-time record for yards per game in a season. He needs 340 to average 129.1 and break Wes Chandler’s record set in 1982 with San Diego. Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who’s hampered by a hip injury and having a rough season, will likely draw the difficult assignment, but first-round pick Dee Milliner could see Gordon for some snaps.
“As a rookie defensive back in the league, teams are going to go after you, that’s just how it is, and we’re going to do the same thing,” Gordon said. “He’s been struggling a lot this season. I think we might have a few matchups where I can get on him. But if I can’t, I’m going to do what I can with Cromartie.”
FRONT AND CENTER
Jets coach Rex Ryan always has a stout defensive front, and this year is no exception. The Jets are nearly impossible to run against, allowing a league-low 3.2 yards per rush and 86.1 yards per game (third). Ryan’s scheme is solid, but the players make it work. End Muhammad Wilkerson, nose tackle Damon Harrison and rookie tackle Sheldon Richardson are joined by outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples and inside linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis.
“Their front seven, there’s a lot of playmakers,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “Wilkerson and Richardson are two young, very impressive guys that can be dominant players and are showing to be dominant players in this league.”
The Browns have struggled to run the ball all season – ranked 27th with 84.9 yards per game – and coordinator Norv Turner admitted during the week it’s a lost cause. So Cleveland’s success will rely on quarterback Jason Campbell and the passing game. That doesn’t remove the threat of New York’s front line, as the Jets are tied for 12th with 38 sacks. Pace has 51 career sacks, including a career-best nine this year. Coples has a team-leading 42 quarterback hurries and a sack in three straight games. Richardson, the No. 13 pick, has 92 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 27 hurries and a forced fumble.
“Right from the get-go, we knew we had something special there,” Ryan said. “He’s got a great motor. He brings it on the practice field as well as the game field. I love his passion for the game.”
The Browns’ offensive line didn’t allow a sack last week for the first time this season and must be good again. Campbell also must protect the ball after throwing two interceptions in the loss to the Bears.
Team-leading yards and catches by Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley
Defensive touchdowns by the Browns, their most since five in 2001.
Turnover margin for the Jets, which ranks last in the NFL.
Cleveland’s defense finally makes a stand, even if it is against rookie quarterback Geno Smith. Browns 24, Jets 16.