CLEVELAND — This is where a writer of a certain age naturally would invoke a certain 98-yard drive in a certain city by Lake Erie against a certain beleaguered, still-Super Bowl-free franchise.
But let’s not. This is not 1987 and it was not a championship game and Josh McCown is no John Elway. And unlike “The Drive,” the lower-case one that saved the Jets covered a mere 97 yards.
It was just enough for the occasion, though, and was the difference Sunday in a 17-14 victory over the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium for the tied-for-first-place, not-tanking 3-2 Jets.
The beauty of the mid-fourth quarter drive was that it came out of nowhere on a day the offense otherwise did not show up, compiling a mere 212 total yards, 34 of them on the ground.
Yes, that 212 yards INCLUDES the 97 on one drive. No possession other than the 97-yarder was even a third as long, if you don’t count penalty yardage. It was awful.
But that was OK, at least against the winless Browns.
The fact that the Jets survived with resourcefulness from both the offense and defense — which thrice kept the Browns without a score inside the red zone — was the sign of a team that deserves to be taken seriously.
“It was huge,” McCown said of the long march. “It’s the old saying: ‘Be at your best when your best is needed.’ We played well when we needed to . . . In that moment we stepped up and every guy made a play here and there.”
The score was 10-7 Jets and 12:56 remained when the Jets took over at their 3-yard line after the defense had stuffed a fourth-and-2 run by the Browns. They scored eight plays and 4:26 later.
The highlights: A third-and-2 pass to tight end Eric Tomlinson — who had two catches all season prior to Sunday and was playing with an injured elbow — that gained 34 yards.
An end-around to ArDarius Stewart that gained 11. A third-and-8 pass to Jeremy Kerley that gained 18.
And, finally, a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse on which McCown froze the defense with a pump fake aimed at Robby Anderson, then found Kearse alone inside the 5-yard line for an easy score to end their longest drive on the road since 1996. McCown was 6-for-6 on the drive, to five different receivers.
“I just know we’re doing our jobs and eventually it will click,” said tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who scored the Jets’ other touchdown, their first by a tight end since 2015.
“Sometimes it doesn’t always work out perfectly and sometimes it’s not pretty, but as long as you get it done when it really counts and you get a win, that’s all that really counts.”
It is difficult to argue with that. If the Jets play like they did against the Browns when the Patriots visit, they will not be tied for first place for long. But 3-2 is 3-2, and 97 yards is 97 yards.
“I think we always know we can do that,” Seferian-Jenkins said, “but to be able to do that in such a tight situation with how the game was going, it’s really, really cool and it’s really good to give the defense a break. You saw how hard they were playing. They were playing their tails off.”
Even with the long drive, the Browns ran 70 plays to the Jets’ 51 and possessed the ball for 34:26 to the Jets’ 25:34.
“It was big,” coach Todd Bowles said. “We needed it. We were struggling. It was almost like pulling teeth the whole game . . . For us as a team to go 97 yards when it counted showed a lot of determination.”
And a lot of drive.