CLEVELAND — Browns coach Hue Jackson handed out a number of game balls after the team’s first win since Dec. 24, 2016.
No one earned theirs more than Jarvis Landry, the 5-foot-11, 196-pound wide receiver who caught eight passes for 102 yards in a 21-17 victory over the New York Jets Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. However, whether Landry would even play remained a question until deep into the week.
“I called Jarvis earlier [Thursday] to see because I know he was not feeling as well,” Jackson said. “He did not practice much, and I know he was going to run early today and he said, ‘Coach, don’t you worry about me. I got you.’ He said, ‘Don’t you worry about me. I got you so don’t worry about it.’”
Landry immediately became quarterback Baker Mayfield’s favorite target once the rookie No. 1 overall draft choice got the call to go into the game for a concussed Tyrod Taylor toward the end of the first half.
In a Browns field goal drive during the two-minute drill, Mayfield found Landry on two passes for 30 yards. Later in the game after running back Carlos Hyde scored on a 1-yard run, the duo connected on a unique two-point conversion on which they switched roles with a wide-open Mayfield catching Landry’s pass to tie the game at 14-14.
“It is not the first pass ever. It was the first [2-point conversion],” Landry said.
Even with the two not getting many reps in practice, it’s clear they’ve developed some type of chemistry. Mayfield’s play electrified everyone, including Landry.
“I promise you, it is just a testament to how he has worked since the day he stepped into this building and not having that backup mentality,” Landry said. “He was so ready for this moment. He was prepared for this moment. He grabbed it by the horns.”
But Landry provided a playmaker necessary for Mayfield to do so, and certainly showed why the Browns acquired him from the Miami Dolphins and rewarded him with a contract extension worth $75 million over five years with $47 million guaranteed.
“To me, the game he had was outstanding. That was one of the biggest reasons why we won,” Jackson said. “He had some huge plays. It is good to hand out those game balls.”
The Philly special
Some might say the two-point conversion the Browns used to tie the game resembled the one the Philadelphia Eagles used in their Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots in February. Jackson said that’s not the case.
“I know everybody wants to think that,” he said. “We have had that in our back pocket for a while. Go check my tricks from before, and go check [offensive coordinator] Todd’s [Haley] tricks from before. We all have them. It is just when you pull them out and use them. That is what that is.”
Left guard Joel Bitonio said he thought the coaching staff saw the Eagles pull it off in the Super Bowl and realized they could do it.
“The funny thing is Tyrod had taken every rep on it,” he said, “so Baker hasn’t run it at all. First rep was a perfect rep, though. He did good.”
“We ran that before. We were on the sideline. He comes to me and says, ‘Your ass better throw me that ball. No matter what.’ I said, ‘I got you,’” Landry said.
On the play, Browns running back Duke Johnson took a direct snap, pitched to Landry who was sweeping from right to left in the backfield and the wide receiver tossed to Mayfield for the points as he promised.
“It is something that we have been working on for a couple of weeks. [Mayfield] was ready for the opportunity," Landry said.
He was indeed. After offsetting penalties caused the conversion chance to be played over, the coaches decided it was the perfect spot to attempt the bit of trickery and it paid off.
“[I’ve] never taken a rep of it, but watching Ty do it all through practice, it is not too hard to walk up to the line and call a cadence and kind of just stand there,” Mayfield said.
He understood what the play did for the fans at FirstEnergy Stadium and the game’s momentum.
“Anytime you can get the crowd to be a factor, kudos to the crowd,” he said. “They played a factor late in the game. Anytime you can get them to be your 12th man, as cliché as that sounds, it is the truth. Whatever we have to do to fire them up to affect the other offense, it is great.”
Defense on duty
As electrifying as the offense proved to be once Mayfield entered the game, the defense — led by defensive end Myles Garrett — continued to play up to its potential.
The Browns once again forced turnovers — three in all — to up their total for the season to 11. They came on a forced fumble by rookie cornerback Denzel Ward and interceptions on the Jets’ final two drives by linebacker Joe Schobert and defensive back Terrance Mitchell, respectively.
In the first three games of the season, the defense is allowing fewer than 20 points per game and continue to force those turnovers. Against the Jets, they allowed 268 net yards.
Garrett isn’t satisfied with that effort.
"We can do better. We have good chemistry,” Garrett said. “We're taking the ball away. But we need to keep even less points on the board. We know we can. We've just got to, even when we're in those sudden-change situations or backed up, we've got to hold them to three [points], don't let them get into the end zone. It's a good job. But it can always be better."
Garrett produced two more sacks and two hurries against the Jets, but seemed happier with what the offense was able to achieve.
“It is a relief. You get your breath back. You get your wind and you can get some momentum going. Once the offense keeps on driving, moving the ball and scoring, you know that they’re going to have your back,” he said of their effort. “When you are able to take the ball away or force a three-and-out, you know that they are going to put it in the end zone. We just felt that momentum that they were giving us and were moving with it.”
Former Browns running back Isaiah “The Crow” Crowell exacted some vengeance on his former team by scoring two touchdowns. On the second, he added a little something to his celebration, simulating using the ball as toilet paper before tossing it in the crowd.
“I didn’t think about the touchdown celebration before the game,” he said. “It was just the spur of the moment, but I need to control myself. I don’t think it had to do with the stadium I was at, I just feel like it was spur of the moment.”
Crowell said he wasn’t trying to send a message to anyone.
“You have to play the game with passion and that is the way I play,” he said. “I did it so I have to accept whatever punishment comes with the celebration. I know that I can’t put my teammates in that position.”
Jackson said he didn’t see Crowell’s theatrics, but the two exchanged pleasantries after the game.
“I just think sometimes [it’s] the emotions of the game and guys will do that from time to time,” he said.
Landry didn’t witness it either, but one thing mattered to him: scoreboard.
So far, so good
Kicker Greg Joseph, who replaced Zane Gonzalez earlier this week, made a successful debut by connecting on both his extra points and field goals of 45 and 27 yards.
“He made plays. The ball went through the uprights. I tell him, that is what you are here for,” Jackson said. “As long as it goes through the uprights, you can stay. If it does not, you might have to go. That is just how it works.”
Seal of approval
Legendary Browns running back Jim Brown liked what he saw of the team Thursday night.
“The amount of talent that has been brought in here, you’ve got a talented group of individuals and they didn’t give up,” he said. “They stayed right in there and showed the characteristics of a true champion. It might take some time, but it’s going to be all right.”