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Browns clinch playoff berth for first time since 2020 after win over Jets

Three seasons and four 2023 starting quarterbacks later, the Cleveland Browns are back in the playoffs.

The Browns clinched their first playoff berth since 2020 and just their third this century with Thursday's 37-20 win over the New York Jets.

"Pretty special night for this organization," head coach Kevin Stefanski said in his postgame news conference. "Pretty special night for the fans out there. They were ready to roll from the jump. They were huge tonight. Huge all season. So appreciate that from our crowd. With us through it all.

"Organizationally, it's a big deal when you can clinch and earn that second season. Obviously, we have a bunch of work to do and we'll focus on that, but for the moment, proud of this football team. Proud of those guys for battling through a bunch of adversity both tonight and through this season. We'll finish strong next week and then we'll see what comes."

Buoyed by a dominant defense and the stunning renaissance of veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, Cleveland is headed to the postseason for the second time in Stefanski's four-season tenure.

The 11-5 Browns are now 4-1 with Flacco starting over the past five weeks. Signed off the street to resume his career, the 38-year-old Flacco is the fourth starting QB for the team this season, following Deshaun Watson (out for the season), rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson (recently played on injured reserve) and PJ Walker. A Super Bowl MVP with the Ravens, Flacco will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2018 -- his final season with Baltimore when he backed up a rookie named Lamar Jackson in a wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

"This city's been unbelievable," Flacco told NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo following the game. "I can't say enough about it. I mean, you felt it in here tonight. Awesome atmosphere. Really exciting to kind of get the job done and make sure we get that spot in the playoffs here tonight in front of this crowd."

With all of the QB strife, it's somewhat been overlooked that the team's success has come sans running back Nick Chubb, who was lost for the season in the second game of the year. It's made Thursday night's accomplishment all the more astounding.

It's been the defense, led by Myles Garrett and helmed by Jim Schwartz, that has been stellar throughout a 2023 campaign that will extend to at least 18 games.

Cleveland has the inside track on the AFC No. 5 seed, though it still has an outside chance at winning the AFC North and taking the conference's top seed. However, the Baltimore Ravens can clinch both with a victory against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

For now, the Browns have a playoff berth to celebrate on Thursday night before finishing the regular season against the archrival Cincinnati Bengals. After that, they're postseason bound for just the fourth time in 33 years amid a roller-coaster of a campaign.

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