(TSX / STATS) — When the NFL schedule came out in April, many looked at the Jets-Browns Week 5 matchup as one that could possibly decide the top pick in next year’s draft.
It still might for Cleveland, which is one of four remaining winless teams (along with the 49ers, Chargers and Giants).
But for the Jets, Sunday’s game at the Browns’ FirstEnergy Stadium gives them the opportunity for their first-three game winning streak since they won five in a row from Weeks 12-16 of the 2015 season.
It also gives New York quarterback Josh McCown a chance at his first win in Cleveland, something he failed to do in two seasons playing for the Browns.
“Obviously, I wish we would’ve won more games and it had gone better,” McCown said after practice Wednesday. “But I think we learned from it and they’re in the process of trying to build their own thing there.”
Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was asked after Wednesday’s practice if he’s afraid this could be a trap game for the Jets, although it’s hard to label it that since it is virtually a pick’em in Las Vegas.
“Nah, I’m not afraid, are you?” Wilkerson asked reporters. “Nah, nobody is afraid. We’re going to execute and do our job. We don’t care about their record.”
The Jets’ defense, led by rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, and defensive end Kony Ealy, has been on fire their last two games, allowing only two touchdowns, including one on the last play of the Miami game that didn’t affect the outcome. It also has three interceptions and four sacks in that stretch.
And the running game came alive last week for a season-high 256 yards behind career days from Bilal Powell (163 yards, touchdown) and rookie Elijah McGuire (93 yards, TD). With Matt Forte again questionable to play because of turf toe, the running game will likely lean heavily on these two again.
For the Browns, some see this game as maybe their best opportunity for a win the rest of this season.
Cleveland has gone 2-29 in its last 31 games, the worst stretch in NFL history, and second-year coach Hue Jackson is 1-19, a mark he calls “horrible.” But Cleveland’s aptly-named vice president of football operations Sashi Brown is confident in his team’s rebuilding process.
“We’re committed to continuing to work toward building this roster and becoming a perennial playoff team, and we’re on our way toward that,” Brown said Wednesday. “… We certainly have made some progress on the field. We’re seeing that with some of the young guys that are playing and making plays for us.”
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer is part of that young nucleus, but the 21-year-old second-round pick out of Notre Dame has struggled a bit in the early going, as rookies are wont to do. He has three touchdowns passes and two touchdown runs, but also has a league-high eight interceptions.
“When you are 0-4 and statistically one of the worst quarterbacks out there right now, you have to figure out where you are headed,” Kizer said Wednesday. “What is the path right now? What is the message? For me, it is about doing whatever I can to grow in whatever Coach (Jackson) decides needs to be the right room for growth for that week. … Obviously, this is going to be a process. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Another young player will be added to the Browns’ mix this week as defensive end Myles Garrett, the top pick in last year’s draft, should make his NFL debut after missing the first four games because of a high-ankle sprain. Wednesday afternoon, the 21-year-old out of Texas A&M tweeted “Regrese,” which is Spanish for “I am back.”
Garrett was limited in practice Wednesday, but is expected to play. He practiced some last week as well, but was held out of the Browns’ 31-7 home loss to the Bengals.
“I hope that’s where it’s going,” Jackson said about Garrett playing Sunday. “I think we were close this past week. We’re definitely going to be closer this week, but let’s get through practice and make sure there are no hiccups that way. If there isn’t, hopefully, we can get him out there this Sunday and ready to play. We need all of our guys out there ready to go participating. We have a big game this week.”
Even with Garrett, it’s highly unlikely that Cleveland will make a playoff run, a place it hasn’t been since 2002. The Browns own the second-longest playoff drought in the league (the Bills are first at 17 years), while the Jets are tied for the seventh-longest stretch with the Bears at six seasons.