CLEVELAND — The Jets didn’t want the ignominy, but it’s all theirs.
The Browns’ long nightmare ended Thursday night in a game the Jets led by 14 points. Cleveland’s 19-game winless streak is over after it beat the Jets, 21-17, at First Energy Field.
The Jets (1-2) became the Browns’ first victim in 635 days. Their last victory came Dec. 24, 2016, over the Chargers. But they fought back against the Jets on a night when their fans had multiple reasons to celebrate.
The Jets didn’t like being the team that helped end the drought for Cleveland (1-1-1).
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “It’s definitely a tough pill to swallow. You don’t want to have your name on the side of that as a loss and the history and all that.”
Baker Mayfield, who the Browns chose over Darnold with the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, made his NFL debut when starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor exited in the first half because of a concussion.
Mayfield was better than Darnold in an unexpected game between two of the top three picks of the draft. Mayfield finished 17-for-23 with 201 yards and had a 100.1 passer rating. He also caught a two-point conversion on a pass from Jarvis Landry that tied the game at 14. The play was reminiscent of the Eagles’ Philly Special touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl.
Darnold struggled against defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ aggressive scheme. He was just 15-for-31 for 169 yards and two interceptions — both in the last 1:21 of the game. Darnold’s passing rating was 38.2.
“Stupid mistakes in that fourth quarter and some missed opportunities throughout the whole game,” Darnold said. “I just go to play better. It’s on me.”
The Jets appeared in control late in the first half. Their defense was outstanding on Taylor, who was 4-for-14 with 19 yards. But after Mayfield entered the game, the Browns scored 14 unanswered. The Jets regained the lead on a Jason Myers 28-yard field goal with 8:58 left. But when the Jets needed a defensive stop, they couldn’t get it.
Mayfield was brilliant on the game-winning 15-play, 75-yard drive. He showed poise in converting two third downs. The drive ended with Carlos Hyde rumbling in the end zone on third-and-goal from the 1 for his second touchdown of the game. Greg Joseph’s extra point made it 21-17 with 2:04 left.
The Jets didn’t blame the loss on playing their third game in 11 days. But they crumbled after halftime, when they were outscored 18-3.
“We lost our composure,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “I told the team that we lost our composure. We should be \[ticked\] off up until we play the game next week.”
The Jets weren’t done though. They needed Darnold to do what Mayfield did. But he couldn’t.
Darnold took over on the Jets’ 25 with 2:04 left. He converted a critical fourth-and-10, hitting Jermaine Kearse for an 11-yard gain. But Darnold was picked off on his next pass by Joe Schobert on the Jets’ 43 yard line with 1:21 to go.
The Browns ended up punting, giving Darnold another shot. The Jets were pinned on their own five. Darnold completed the first pass 25 yards to Terrelle Pryor. But he was sacked on second down and threw the game-sealing interception on third down.
Then a rare sight took place: the Browns lined up in victory formation and Mayfield took a knee as the Cleveland fans celebrated.
“It’s not acceptable the way I played,” Darnold said.
It wasn’t all on Darnold. Penalties, mistakes and missed coverages killed the Jets in this game. Robby Anderson fumbled for the second straight week, and it led to a field goal.
“The whole ball game falls on me,” Bowles said.
Bowles was not only upset with the performance but some of the Jets’ antics.
Isaiah Crowell, the former Brown playing his first game in Cleveland since signing with the Jets, rushed for two touchdowns. After his second score, Crowell was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct when his celebration consisted of him wiping the ball on his rear end. Bowles called it “inexcusable” and said it would never happen again.
After Hyde’s first touchdown, the Browns attempted a two-point conversion but they failed. Off-setting penalties — holding on both teams — gave Cleveland another try. The result was a gut-punch to the Jets as the Browns scored on a Cleveland Special.
Similar to the play that the Eagles ran in the Super Bowl, it was a direct snap to Duke Johnson, who handed it to Jarvis Landry and he threw it to Mayfield in the end zone.
“Penalties happen,” Bowles said. “You don’t want them at crucial times. We let them back in the ball game and gave them life. That can’t happen.”