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Thursday Night Football review: Cleveland Browns book playoff spot with win over New York Jets

The Cleveland Browns are playoff-bound for just the second time since 2002 following their Thursday night win over the New York Jets.

With 38-year-old Joe Flacco again starting at quarterback, the Browns established a 20-7 first-quarter lead and would keep their foot on the gas, scoring 34 first-half points and eventually prevailing by a 37-20 scoreline in Ohio.

That win moves Cleveland to 11-5 for the season, with only the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins ahead of them in the AFC standings, while the Jets have slipped to 6-10 and are longing for their miserable season to come to an end next week.

Veteran Flacco continues to roll

Flacco had thrown for at least 300 yards in each of the Browns' three games prior to Thursday and the former Jet set the tone on Cleveland's opening drive, connecting with David Njoku twice for a combined 68 yards, before finding Jerome Ford for a seven-yard touchdown.

The Jets countered through a drive that culminated in a 21-yard touchdown pass to running back Breece Hall, who has been one of the standouts on offense for New York this year. But the Browns marched back down the field thanks to another huge Njoku play before Kareem Hunt knifed his way through for a touchdown.

Before the first quarter was out, things got worse for the Jets as quarterback Trevor Siemian, starting once again with Zach Wilson still in concussion protocol, threw an interception which was returned for a touchdown by rookie safety Ronnie Hickman.

The Browns would continue to roll in the second quarter as Flacco connected with his wide receiver, another former Jet in Elijah Moore, for an eight-yard passing touchdown.

The road team at least kept their score respectable after a Flacco interception was returned for a Jets touchdown.

Flacco, Ford and Njoku torch error-ridden Jets

Having already scored a touchdown in the first quarter, Ford would combine with Flacco again to end the second with arguably the play of the game.

Flacco scrambled to his left, narrowly avoiding a sack, then completing to Ford, who caught the ball on the Jets 39-yard line then broke through a series of tackles to score his second touchdown of the game.

The Jets kicked a field goal just before half-time to make the score 34-17 and they never looked likely to mount a comeback in a second half which contrasted hugely with first, as both teams were only able to add a field goal each to their first-half totals.

Flacco finished with over 300 yards for a fourth straight game, completing 19 of 29 passes for 309 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, while Ford and Njoku were the star offensive weapons for the Browns.

Tight end Njoku was unable to reach the end zone, but he caught six passes for 134 yards in the absence of Amari Cooper, while Ford has now scored nine touchdowns this season in the absence of star running back Nick Chubb.

Four-game streak has Cleveland dreaming

With a playoff place now in the bag thanks to their four-game winning streak, the Browns will now be dreaming of winning the NFL Championship for the first time, having never previously made it to the season finale since the franchise was established in 1946.

Kevin Stefanski's team have overcome a raft of injuries - most notably to starting quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Chubb - to reach 11 wins and they're now +2800 to win the Championship and +1600 to win the AFC Championship game.

While their success this season has been built on a defense which has allowed the fewest total yards per game, the offense has really started to click in recent weeks, with the Browns scoring 31 points on average in their wins over the Jaguars, Bears, Texans and Jets.

Before the playoffs begin, Cleveland finishes the regular season with the latest Battle of Ohio, which takes place at the Cincinnati Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium in Week 18.

As for the Jets, defeat to the Browns was the latest blow in a long, grueling season which began in disastrous fashion when Aaron Rodgers suffered a torn Achilles tendon on the opening drive against the Bills in September.

Head coach Robert Saleh is expected to be back in New York for the 2024 season - despite some calls for him to be fired - when he will hope to have a fully-fit Rodgers at his disposal.

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