The Browns and New York Jets went from being playoff hopefuls at the beginning of November to crawling on broken glass toward the regular-season’s finish line.
Their collapses have been remarkable, considering the two teams have combined for one win since Nov. 3. So with two games remaining, it’s not surprising that both of the teams have been mathematically eliminated from earning a postseason berth.
The Browns (4-10) have lost eight of their past nine games and have reached double-digit defeats for the sixth consecutive season and the 10th time in the last 11 years. The Jets (6-8) have lost four of their past five games and will miss the playoffs for the third season in a row, a drought that could cost coach Rex Ryan his job.
In other words, the vast majority of Browns and Jets fans will be more interested in the May draft than a game between two dismal franchises three days before Christmas.
For those seeking storylines to inject some fun into a meaningless matchup, good luck. The Browns will encounter familiar faces in the form of tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., their first-round pick in 2004, and wide receiver David Nelson, who spent the most recent training camp in Cleveland before being cut. But a far more anticipated reunion with wide receiver and special-teams ace Josh Cribbs was canceled two weeks ago when the Jets placed him on injured reserve after he hurt his right shoulder.
Brian Costello covers the Jets for the New York Post. He discussed the team in the following question-and-answer session:
Q: The Jets were 5-4 and in the driver’s seat for the AFC’s second wild-card berth after defeating the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 3. What are the main reasons for the losses piling up since then?
A: “Rookie quarterback Geno Smith is the main reason. He has turned the ball over a ton in that stretch. He just looks like he lost confidence in that stretch, but he’s not alone. The offensive line hasn’t played as well. They’ve been giving up a lot of pressure on him. The wide receivers have been a problem all year for the Jets. They just don’t have a whole lot of talent at wide receiver right now, so that hurts [Smith]. Defensively, they’ve played pretty well this year, really good against the run, but they’ve given up big plays left and right.”
Q: Smith, a second-round pick (No. 39 overall), has started every game this season, but he has been benched three times during games. How would you characterize his season as a whole?
A: “Early on, he showed some flashes. He led them over the Atlanta Falcons on a Monday night early in the season, which seemed like a bigger win at the time. After watching the Falcons’ [4-10] season, it doesn’t maybe look as good right now, but he played well in that game. He had some early success, but the turnovers have been terrible, and he’s thrown 21 interceptions, which is second in the league. He’s not a natural runner like some of those quarterbacks you see coming into the league now. He can run, but it seems like the coaches always have to remind him to use his legs, and when he does that, he actually plays pretty well. But really it’s been an inconsistent year from him, and he really hasn’t answered any questions about whether he’s the guy moving forward. The Jets have a tough decision in the offseason.”
Q: Do you think this is the end of the line for Ryan as the Jets coach?
A: “I’m not sure. It’s being debated heavily right now, and there are some good arguments both ways. It’s tough to figure out with a first-year general manager in John Idzik. Typically, general managers want to hire their own guys. The owner, Woody Johnson, made Idzik keep Rex for this year, so we’ll see. I think it could go either way right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Q: How has Hudson native and Kent State University product Brian Winters performed at left guard as a rookie?
A: “He’s struggling. He’s having a tough time. He really probably shouldn’t be starting at this point. He’s on a bad team, so he’s starting. He might be better served watching a little bit and playing down the line. The Jets think he’s going to be very good. They really like his potential. Rex Ryan earlier in the year said he thinks he’ll be a 10-year starter in the league. He didn’t start at the beginning of the season. It took till Week 5 when he began starting. He’s converting from tackle to guard. He played tackle at Kent State, so he’s learning the position and going through what rookies go through. But the problem for him is offensive linemen are on the field for every play, so it just increases the amount of times he gets exposed. I think the Jets are high on him, but he’s having a tough time this year.”
Q: What’s the matchup the Jets need to worry about most when they face the Browns?
A: “Wide receiver Josh Gordon. I don’t know how they’re going to do that. They’ve given up a lot of big plays, and a lot of them were pass plays. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who went to the Pro Bowl last year, has not had a good season. He has a hip injury that’s bothered him since training camp. He’s really been susceptible to the deep ball. And on the other side, they have their rookie first-round pick, cornerback Dee Milliner, and he’s been benched three times this season. He’s had some struggles. They go out and get free safety Ed Reed thinking it would help that situation, but Reed doesn’t look like he has much left, and he hasn’t really done a whole lot to help.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.