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2023 NFL season, Week 17: What We Learned from Browns' win over Jets on Thursday night

1. Browns win sloppy game, clinch playoff spot thanks to explosive plays. The headline is that Cleveland is in the postseason for only the third time since 2002, but the way they did it won't award the Browns bonus style points. The 37-20 win over the Jets was by no means a work of art, but the Browns did make game-changing plays in all three phases. It just was a lot harder than it probably needed to be. They racked up 367 yards in the first half and they led by 20 points twice, but the Jets kept hanging around, mostly thanks to three Cleveland turnovers. David Njoku had a 113-yard first quarter but lost a fumble on the third play of the second quarter. Joe Flacco threw an ill-advised pick-six when there was no play to be made. Both times, the Browns had chances to put it away but couldn't. After a scoreless third quarter, the Jets were just hanging around, and the Browns kept letting them. Pierre Strong Jr. coughed up a fumble pretty easily in the fourth, and the Browns' defense was caught with 12 men on the field, wiping out a takeaway and gifting the Jets a field goal. After that, they ran out of gas, but the Browns could -- and probably should -- have put the Jets away sooner. And more cleanly.

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2. Are the Jets really one Aaron Rodgers away from competing? It's admittedly unfair to pose this question through the lens of a single performance, but watching the Jets get undressed in the first half -- even with the Browns making their share of mistakes -- begs the question of whether the Jets have the roster they thought they had in August, when there was so much excitement heading into the season. The defense was undressed by the Amari Cooper-less Browns, allowing 376 yards -- more than they'd allowed in all but four complete games -- and 34 points, which tied the most the team allowed in any game. The special teams mistakes, fumbling a kickoff and having a field goal blocked, were brutal. And the offense chipped in with a pick-six and eight penalties. The Jets lost close games this season to the Chiefs, Raiders, Patriots and Falcons and earned some quality wins, including over the Eagles, Bills and Texans. But after Thursday's game, they've been beaten six times by three or more scores, including twice at home. Would better quarterbacking have helped? Of course. But with the 40-year old Rodgers coming off Achilles rehab, the Jets might want to have some honest, hard conversations this offseason about the personnel.

3. Flacco's uneven performance bears watching. By game's end, Browns fans were chanting Flacco's name, as well they should. The QB has won four of his five starts and has thrown for 300-plus yards in each of them. His incredible story keeps adding a chapter, as he'll be back in the playoffs as a starter for the first time since the 2014 season. But it was an up-and-down performance from him Thursday, even factoring in Cooper being inactive four days after his 265-yard, two-TD receiving performance at Houston and with wide receiver Elijah Moore leaving the game with a concussion. Flacco was mostly hot early, as the Jets seemed to be chasing their tails defensively, leading some impressive drives. He racked up a career-best 296 pass yards and threw for three TDs in an explosive first half. But he also had a poor pick-six, nearly coughed up a fumble and had a few other regrettable throws. Then the second half happened. Flacco was only 3-for-7 passing for 13 yards in the second half, watching his accuracy escape him in real time. The Browns had a lead and had limited targets on hand, but that's now eight interceptions in five games for Flacco -- one in each game -- and three fumbles. Those turnovers really haven't cost him and his team yet, but they almost did a few times Thursday.

4. Jets' defense finishes strong but turns in worst game of season. Watching the Browns zoom down the field four times in the first half for touchdown drives of 75-plus yards was an odd sight. Say what you will about the Jets this season, but generally speaking, the defense has come ready to play. That was not the case Thursday. Tip of the hat to Kevin Stefanski for calling a pretty terrific game early, but the Jets looked lost defensively. The Browns didn't have their best receiver in Cooper, and Moore was knocked out at the two-minute warning in the first half, and Flacco nearly torched the Jets for 300 yards in the first half alone. The run defense wasn't a whole lot better against a Browns ground game that had been grounded for a few weeks now. Quinnen Williams' third-down run stuff and Flacco's overthrow on fourth down kept the game closer in the first half, and the Browns gained only 61 yards on 21 second-half plays. But coming out as sluggish as the defense did was a big reason why the Jets found themselves in a big hole early.

5. Browns run game comes alive. With injuries in the backfield, on the offensive line and elsewhere on offense, Cleveland's run game has leveled off significantly in recent weeks. Entering the game, the team had averaged 75.8 rush yards per game in the past six -- and it totaled 83 yards the previous two weeks. But Thursday was a huge step in the right direction, as the Browns ran 28 times for 127 yards, with Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt leading the way. Ford ran for 64 yards and added two receiving TDs. Hunt ran for a score. Strong Jr. even chipped in with 29 yards rushing on only four carries, although he did lose a fumble late. Still, it was the first time the team collectively averaged 4.5 yards per rush or higher since Week 10, and when the passing game slowed down, they had a Plan B. That hasn't always been the case this season, and it could be a sneaky-promising development as the playoffs draw near.

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Next Gen stat of the game: Myles Garrett generated a team-high eight pressures on 44 pass rushes (18.2%), with seven of his pressures coming in under 2.5 seconds (2.10-second average time to pressure).

NFL Research: Kevin Stefanski joined franchise namesake and Hall of Famer Paul Brown as the only head coaches in Browns history with more than 10 wins in multiple seasons.

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