Minute-by-minute breakdown of Jets’ historic comeback vs. Browns

jets browns

CLEVELAND – It’s not hyperbole. It’s not being a prisoner of the moment. It’s just the truth.

The Jets on Sunday pulled off one of the most unlikely and incredible comebacks in NFL history when they stormed back from 13 points down in the final two minutes to beat the Browns 31-30 at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Browns took a 30-17 lead with 1:55 remaining. And the score was the same with 1:32 remaining when quarterback Joe Flacco caught the snap and dropped back.

Just 17 minutes later in real time, Flacco took a knee to seal the most improbable of victories from the Jets.

“This was a crazy game,” Jets receiver Corey Davis said. “One of the craziest endings I have ever been a part of and probably one of the greatest feelings, too.”

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“I don’t know where it ranks,” Flacco, a 15-year veteran said, ‘but it is up there.”

The Jets have spent nearly their entire existence – and especially the last 11-plus years – building a resume as perhaps the hardest of hard-luck teams in professional sports.

But for those 17 minutes at least, the Jets did everything right, capitalized on everything the Browns did wrong, and pulled off arguably the most improbable and remarkable come-from-behind win in franchise history.

“I don’t want to say we thought we were going to lose,” wide receiver Garrett Wilson said. “But when we looked at the score, we were down 13 with a 1:30 [left] and your chances are not too hot. Luckily, they had some miscues. They messed up and we had to take advantage.”

According to ESPN, the Jets became the first team since 2001 to come back from a 13-point deficit in the final two minutes to win when the Bears did it against the Browns. In that nearly 21-year span – from Week 9 of 2001 through Week 1 of the 2022 regular season – NFL teams had lost 2,229 games when trailing by 13 or more in the final two minutes.

Until the Jets fell behind by 13 against the Browns on Sunday and somehow got out of Cleveland with a win.

“That was the coolest game that I have ever been a part of,” punter Braden Mann said. “I mean, I have been a part of some crazy games but that was the coolest.”

Here’s a minute-by-minute look at how the Jets pulled off a comeback for the ages, and what the key people involved were thinking as it happened.

3:51 p.m. | ‘They gave us a chance’

Browns win probability: 99.9 percent (via ESPN)

The Jets have used all three of their timeouts and the Browns are in full command, facing first-and-10 from the 12-yard line with 2:02 remaining. The Browns have to run one more play before the two-minute drill, but the end result seems like a formality – especially once Cleveland running back Nick Chubb takes the handoff from Jacoby Brissett and gets outside for a 12-yard touchdown to give the Browns a 30-17 lead with 1:55 remaining.

Jets cornerback D.J. Reed has the chance to tackle Chubb in the backfield, but a stiff arm sends him to the ground where he can only watch and seethe as FirstEnergy Stadium erupts around him. Later, Reed remembered being angry as he walked off the field to get a better look at the play on film.

He wasn’t the only one.

“I was pissed that they ran a touchdown in,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said, adding that in that moment felt like the Browns wanted it more than the Jets defense which surrendered more than 100 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.

But that touchdown sparks a different reaction from Jets coach Robert Saleh: hope. Moments earlier, Saleh was grim-faced and pacing the sideline. Now, he’s having an animated conversation with his staff. The Browns could have run out the clock had Chubb stopped short of the end zone. But he didn’t.

“The echo on the headset was that they gave us a chance,” Saleh said. “Let’s see what happens. … I’ve never been so happy for a missed tackle in my life. That was our only chance.”

3:52 p.m. | Wide right

As rookie kicker Cade York lines up for the extra point many Browns fans are lining up for the exits, feeling the outcome is secure. When York’s kick sails wide right of the upright, it does little to damper the celebratory mood in the stadium.

Several of York’s teammates give him a pat on the head. CBS announcer Spero Dedes throws to commercial for the two-minute warning: “Cleveland trying to put the finishing touches on the Jets.”

3:55 p.m. | On this date…

Browns win probability: 99.8 percent

CBS comes back from a commercial with quick segment about the Browns being on the verge of starting a season 2-0 for the first time since 1993, when Bill Belichick was the head coach.

An accompanying graphic notes some quick facts about Sept. 13, 1993, the last time Cleveland started a season with back-to-back wins: Jurassic Park was the No. 1 movie at the box office, Dreamlover by Mariah Carey was at the top of the music charts, and gas prices averaged $1.05 per gallon.

Flacco connects with Tyler Conklin for a nine-yard gain on first and 10 from the 25 after a touchback. The clock keeps ticking down.

3:56 p.m. | ‘Something I have never felt before’

jets browns

New York Jets wide receiver Corey Davis (84) makes a catch and takes it in for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Cleveland. The Jets won 31-30. (AP Photo/David Richard)AP

On second-and-1, Flacco drops back and has time to throw. He sees that Davis has a step on cornerback Denzel Ward so he unleashes a deep ball down the right side of the field.

What happens next shocks even Flacco.

“Obviously when you see him go to the sideline and turn upfield, you think he is on top of the corner and you have the ball going,” Flacco said. “Then, no one is anywhere near him.”

Ward had pulled up, apparently thinking his zone coverage did not extend deep, and Davis runs right past him to easily secure Flacco’s deep ball and walk into the end zone for a 66-yard touchdown.

“It was a really weird feeling because of how quiet it got in there,” Flacco said. “You almost felt like there was a penalty or something. Obviously, we are in Cleveland, so it makes sense. But, that feeling was something I have never felt before — how quiet it actually got out there. The game wasn’t over, there was actually still a minute and a half left.”

When asked about it later, Browns coach Keven Stefanski stopped short of blaming Ward for the miscue when asked about his specific responsibility. But in speaking generally about the play it’s not hard to read between the lines.

“It was very, very clear what we were doing,” Stefanski said. “We talked about it on the sideline before everybody went out and talked to the entire defense about what they were about to do, which was try and throw it over our head. We can’t let that happen.”

Greg Zuerlein converts on the extra point to narrow the gap 30-24 with 1:22 remaining. The Jets have no timeouts so there is only one option now: recover the onside kick or lose.

3:58 p.m. | One path to victory

Browns win probability: 81.3 percent

Mann, a week removed from a shanked punt that helped the Ravens blow out the Jets in the third quarter of the season-opener, lines up for an onside kick. He later says he practices his technique with the special teams unit at least once per week.

He places the ball on its side and looks ready to send the onside kick low and off to his right. Mann later says he practices onside kicks at least once per week during the regular season, so he knows exactly what he must do.

But immediately after the refs put the ball in play, and as Mann starts running to make the kick, the Browns call timeout.

3:59 p.m. | ‘I went absolutely crazy’

The teams are lined up again for the onside kick and Mann wastes little time. He raises his arm, looks quickly to his left, back toward his right and then takes three quick steps and sends a low kick skipping off the ground to his left.

The ball travels the required 10-yard minimum and tracks toward Browns receiver Amari Cooper and the sideline, with potentially enough energy to get out of bounds – which would have given the ball back to Cleveland.

But safety Will Parks is there to greet Cooper about a yard past the minimum distance the ball must travel and a yard from the sideline. Parks collides with Cooper, knocks the ball down and then flips it back away from the sideline as he tried to pick it up.

Parks couldn’t secure the ball, and flipped it past teammate Marcell Harris who went flying by empty handed. But special teams captain Justin Hardee is tracking the ball and jumps on it as Browns receiver David Bell is closing his hands around it. Hardee secured the ball between his legs as the Jets sideline starts to celebrate a few feet away.

No one was happier than Wilson, the rookie receiver who had dropped a pass that would have kept a drive alive earlier in the fourth quarter.

“I went crazy,” Wilson said. “I’m sure there will be a TV clip. I went absolutely crazy on the sideline. I didn’t want my drop to be the reason why we lost the game.”

It takes only a few moments for the officials to untangle the pile and motion for a Jets first down.

In that moment, several Jets players and Saleh said they knew what was going to happen next.

“The onside kick, with the new rules, have been so rare,” Saleh said. “So once that happened, there was no doubt that we were scoring once we got the ball.”

4:04 p.m. | Meticulously driving

Browns win probability: 68.3 percent

The confidence is nice, but the Jets still have to score a touchdown to win this game. And that’s not a given, considering their offensive inconsistency through the first two weeks and that Flacco hasn’t led a game-winning drive since September of 2016.

“You have to score,” Flacco said. “Just because you kick the onside kick does not mean that you are going to put the ball in the end zone.”

And the drive does not start promisingly: Tight end Tyler Conklin drops a pass.

But Flacco responds with two quick passes to running back Michael Carter with a quick pass to Conklin in between. On all three plays, the Jets get out of bounds and stop the clock.

With just under a minute left the Jets have second-and-10 from the Browns’ 27-yard line. Flacco finds Garrett Wilson for a 12-yard gain and calmly walks to the line of scrimmage knowing that he has enough time to run the next play without spiking the ball to stop the clock.

On second down, Flacco nearly gets sacked by Myles Garrett, but he escapes and throws the ball away for an incomplete pass.

“We did not try to rush ourselves down the field and try to take a big chunk and get ourselves third and long,” Flacco said. “We meticulously went down the field and when we got an opportunity, we took it and capitalized.”

The Jets are now facing third down, but as offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s play-call comes through Flacco’s headset, the veteran knows before breaking the huddle that the opportunity has arrived.

“I had a smile inside,” Flacco said of that moment.

4:05 p.m. | ‘It says a lot about him’

Jets win probability: 74.2 percent

Flacco drops back, has time to throw and leads Wilson with a pass across the middle of the field. The rookie catches it inside the 1-yard line and quickly sprints through the end zone, dropping the ball behind him before celebrating in front of stunned Browns fans near the end zone. Behind him, Flacco holds up one finger and starts screaming.

It had worked out just as he planned.

“Their safeties are tight but they were playing pretty soft,” Flacco said. “We were trying to call a couple things to get in that hole behind the linebacker. This [call] just gets you there pretty fast. They were playing so soft that I was throwing that ball no matter what. If I had to manipulate that backer a little … I was going to do it. I was going to find some little window there to hit him.”

Wilson ran his route just past linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and made his break perfectly into the space in front of safety Grant Delpitt. Flacco delivered a perfectly timed and placed pass and the rookie, who scored his first career touchdown in the first half and made his first game-winner look like it was just another day at the office – even more impressive after that earlier drop.

“For him to be able to stay focused and continue to make plays,” Flacco said of Wilson, “it says a lot about him.”

The Jets still need to make the extra point to take the lead, and Greg Zuerlein does just that putting it through the uprights to give the Jets their first lead of the game, 31-30, with 22 seconds remaining.

4:08 p.m. | A fitting hero secures the win

Jets win probability: 100 percent

The Browns still have 22 seconds and a timeout remaining, which gives them a real chance to still win this game. All they need to do is to get into field goal range for York. In Week 1, the rookie made a 58-yard field goal to win the game. So the Browns needed to gain only about 35 yards for York to have a chance to do it again.

And on first-and-10 Brissett scrambles 21 yards to the Cleveland 46. Suddenly Cleveland is about 14 yards out of field goal range with 12 seconds to go and a timeout.

Brissett drops back on first down and throws a pass that would have gotten the Browns into field goal range. But Ashtyn Davis, the Jets much-maligned third-year safety, reads it to perfection, jumping the route in front of Cooper and intercepting the ball and sliding to the ground to take a knee.

It was such a wild and stunning end to the game that two of the Jets’ most reliable veteran defenders later admitted to not realizing that the Jets had won the game when Davis picked off the ball. Both Mosley and Reed had not realized that York missed the extra point. They thought the game was tied.

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“When Ashtyn got the pick, I was like why did you slide!?” Reed said. “But it was a smart play.”

“I was like, ‘No, we need more yards, we need to get into field goal range!’” Mosley said. “But everybody was celebrating and once we figured it out, man, it was just a great feeling.”

It was the only snap Davis played in coverage Sunday. And it was not a play he had practiced before. His only job? Keep the ball in front of him.

“It felt good,” Davis said. “These guys out there did their job for four quarters. I just came in for one play and tried to do my job. … I was ready for it, I guess.”

Indeed he was. And in the end it was fitting that the most unlikely of Jets players secured one of the most improbable and remarkable comebacks in franchise history.

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Andy Vasquez may be reached at [email protected].

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