Then, Joe Jurevicius got in the Jets’ way—twice.
The wide receiver recovered two late onside kicks to help Cleveland improve its playoff hopes with a slippery 24-18 victory punctuated by a wild final few minutes.
“The game came down to onside kicks and we were fortunate to grab a few,” Jurevicius said. “It should never come down to that, but we were able to get two out of three.”
Derek Anderson threw two touchdown passes, Jamal Lewis had a touchdown catch and added a 31-yard TD run with 1:22 left, and the Browns (8-5) ruined any plans the Jets (3-10) had of pulling off an upset in a matchup of quarterbacks who were childhood rivals in Oregon.
“It was a matchup that we liked,” Clemens said. “The ball could’ve been placed better, but it was another opportunity that we had that we let get away.”
Jerricho Cotchery, who missed the Jets’ last game with an injured finger, started the drive with a 26-yard catch. Two plays later, Thomas Jones ran for 11 yards to the 20. But New York stalled and coach Eric Mangini brought out Mike Nugent to kick a 38-yard field goal that made it 17-15 with 1:43 left.
The Jets tried another onside kick that Jurevicius recovered. Three plays later on a third-and-4, Lewis broke a number of tackle attempts and rumbled into the end zone for a 24-15 lead.
“It was just a good run that kind of finished things off,” said Lewis, who had 118 yards on 21 carries. “I was just trying to stay up. They were trying to strip the ball, so they weren’t trying to wrap up and tackle.”
New York got the ball back and drove for a 35-yard field goal by Nugent, his fourth of the game, on first down with 32 seconds remaining. On another onside kick, Jurevicius again came up with the ball to seal the win.
“I’m not a big fan of them, but it’s part of the game,” Jurevicius said. “The one place you don’t want to be in an NFL game is at the bottom of a pile. Fortunately, I knocked it straight down and I was able to jump on it down there.”
Coupled with Pittsburgh’s loss to New England, the Browns moved a game behind the AFC North-leading Steelers, though they would lose a tiebreaker because they lost twice to Pittsburgh this season.
Cleveland trails only Jacksonville (9-4) among wild-card contenders in the AFC.
“We’re in the playoffs right now.” Lewis said. “We’ve got three games left and we’re trying to win all of them.”
Both Anderson and Clemens grew up in small towns in Oregon and faced each other a handful of times on the football fields and basketball courts of the Pacific Northwest. With conditions cold and rainy at times, the quarterbacks must have felt right at home at the Meadowlands.
“It was good to see him and talk to him a little bit before the game,” Anderson said. “It seemed like I was watching a lot more of him at the end of the game than I wanted to.”
Score this latest matchup in favor of Anderson, whose teams have beaten Clemens’ three out of four times—but the first as starting NFL quarterbacks. Anderson’s Scappoose High School squad beat Clemens’ Burns team in the state semifinals in 2000, but Clemens came out on top three years later when he led Oregon over Oregon State. Anderson had a huge game in the “Civil War” matchup a year later when the Beavers routed the Ducks.
Anderson didn’t have an eye-popping performance in this one, but was good enough. He finished 16-of-29 for 185 yards, while Clemens was 24-of-41 for 286 yards, but had two costly interceptions.
“This wasn’t about Kellen and Derek before the game, for the players,” Clemens said. “It’s not about Kellen and Derek afterward.”
The Browns broke through in a scoreless game with 1:15 remaining in the first half on Lewis’ 7-yard touchdown catch. The drive was prolonged by a 14-yard catch by Braylon Edwards on fourth-and-4, a play that was challenged by coach Eric Mangini but upheld by the officials.
“We were able to keep the game close and keep the game manageable,” safety Kerry Rhodes said. “As the game wore on, they made a few plays with all their playmakers and they made more plays than we did in the end.”
On the Browns’ third play in the second half, Anderson completed a 45-yard pass to Edwards, who leaped over Darrelle Revis. Two plays later, Edwards made a one-handed grab over Revis in the end zone to give Cleveland a 14-3 lead.
Edwards’ TD catch was his 13th, tying the single-season team mark set by Gary Collins in 1963. … Rhodes extended his interceptions streak to four games. … Cotchery finished with six catches for 119 yards, despite having his injured right index finger heavily wrapped.