Quit Joshing me – the Browns are 8-5 and in playoff position.

It was a tale of two Josh Allens.   One, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ linebacker who has registered 13.5 sacks this season.  He recorded five tackles with two tackles for loss in the Jaguars’ 31-27 loss to the Browns on Sunday.  The other, a six-foot-six quarterback drafted number one overall who plays like the poor man’s version of the Buffalo Bills’ quarterback.  That one gutted Sunday’s game out on a sore ankle to the detriment of the Jaguars team, throwing not one, not two, but three game-deciding interceptions.

Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen

Linebacker Josh Allen was asked about Joe Flacco’s performance in a post-game interview and was reluctant to give away much praise.  “(From) what I felt, nobody dusted us. Like, he had 300 yards, but it didn’t feel like it,” Allen said after the game.   “There were wide-open players, wide-open men for touchdowns, and those are 40-50 yard plays. So if you take those plays out, they really didn’t do nothing”, Allen explained.

Allen’s explanation was reminiscent of Butch Davis explaining away Jamal Lewis’ 295 yard rushing performance against the Browns in 2003, quick to argue that he Browns had held Lewis to 2.4 yards per carry if you took out Lewis’s five chunk play runs that included touchdowns of 82 and 63 yards.

Allen wasn’t completely wrong on the degree of difficulty to Flacco's day.   On the opening drive, the Jags’ secondary decided they didn’t need to cover tight end David Njoku, resulting in a gimme 34-yard score.   On the Browns’ final touchdown, the Jags’ secondary forgot that David Bell was on the field at all, giving up an easy seven-yard pass that turned into a joyous, stress-free romp to the end zone for the seldom targeted second-year receiver. 

Flacco, just made the lay ups.   

Over the course of the day, the Browns offense turned in a number of three-and-out drives, including three in a row after their game-opening touchdown drive.   But the Jag’s offense more than returned the favor, mustering nothing in their first five possessions with Lawrence under center.

On the Browns’ fifth possession, Flacco hit Elijah Moore on a twenty-yard pass (great throw and better catch) and David Njoku with a thirty-yard touchdown pass.  The pass to Njoku was on-time and on-target.  It allowed David to terrorize the Jag’s secondary with his size and speed and one unfortunate Jaguar defender felt the crushing blow of David’s lightning-strike stiff arm.

Lawrence then stepped into a phone booth, dawned his identity as the poor man’s Josh Allen, and answered the drive by throwing his first water balloon interception to Martin Emerson on the first pass after the Browns’ score.

Flacco gave it right back to the Jags throwing his own bad interception.  Then, Lawrence rewarded his defense with a six play drive totaling 13 yards, ending in a punt.

As if determined to let the Jags back into the game, Amari Cooper fumbled the ball at the twelve-yard line, resulting in a short-field touchdown where Evan Engram was schemed fairly wide open by Doug Pederson – one of the top three red zone play callers in the NFL.

After another three and out by Cleveland, and momentum looking like it was turning, the poor man’s Josh Allen launched another air balloon interception, again to Martin Emerson to hand big Mo right back to the Browns.  Emerson didn’t have a single interception all year last season.  Lawrence gifted him two in one half of a game.

The Browns then put the ball in Flacco’s hands, attempting to get points before half, running a total of five plays and only taking forty seconds off the clock.

Futility set in for both teams before halftime, with the Jags going three and out,  taking only twenty seconds off the clock before punting and the Browns running another five plays before punting themselves.  The Jags ended it with a kneel down, deciding to live for another half.

After a Jags fumble at the twenty-two-yard line in the opening second-half possession, the Browns converted a short field touchdown behind some determined Kareem Hunt runs.

Lawrence and the Jags’ offense again responded to the score with a three and out – this time failing to gain a yard.

On the Browns’ next drive, Flacco fumbled the ball deep in Cleveland territory after failing to recognize a free blitzer coming off the right edge.

The Jags marched all of 25 yards for their second touchdown.

After the Jags defense held the Browns offense on its next possession, Lawrence took over the ball at its own six-yard line and proceeded to gift another interception to the Browns – this time at the Jacksonville 48.

Facing a fourth and three at the 41-yard line, Stefanski made an aggressive call.   He chose to go for it.  Failure to convert would give Jacksonville – a team that had only scored short-field touchdowns -- another short field down only seven points.   Flacco spotted a free rusher and bought just enough time with his 38-year-old legs to find a completely uncovered David Bell on a pass that traveled about six yards in the air before Bell turned around and jogged the remaining 35 yards into the end zone.  Stefanski raced down the sideline stride-for-stride with Bell and was probably closer to him than any Jaguars defender.

Jacksonville then received the kickoff and Lawrence engineered his one legitimate scoring drive.  The drive was greatly aided by the fact that rookie cornerback Cam Mitchell had to leave the field in the last series for injury and, already down Denzel Ward, special teams player Mike Ford entered the game at corner.  

Ford contributed early and often to the Jag’s scoring drive.   After a six-yard pass completed on him, Ford added injury to insult by gifting the Jags another 15 years on an unnecessary roughness call.  The Jags then went after Ford who, like he has done since the preseason, was beaten like a drum in coverage, ultimately giving up an easy touchdown to rookie receiver Parker Washington.

After the Browns could not sustain another drive and punted the ball to the Jags, the poor man’s Josh Allen was unable to do anything against the Browns’ now decimated secondary and defensive line.   The Browns were now playing without their top three safeties and instead were playing two undrafted free agents at the position.  They were without their second and third best pass rushers in Okoronkwo and Smith and had lost defensive tackles Maurice Hurst and Jordan Elliott for the game.  After failing to convert on fourth down, Lawrence and his Jaguars turned the ball over to Cleveland already in field goal range.   

The Browns offense failed to gain a single yard on the next three plays.  Nevertheless, Dustin Hopkins continued his magnificent season, drilling a clutch 55-yard field goal to put the Browns up by ten.

On the following drive, Lawrence padded his stats, throwing against soft defensive coverage by the Browns.   Now cooked defensive personnel-wise, the Browns decided to trade easy points for taking time off the clock.   Still, the big play of the drive was a pass interference penalty on Anthony Walker on a pass that had zero chance of being caught.   

After a Jacksonville touchdown, Garrett sacked Lawrence on a two-point conversion attempt.  For some reason, the sack does not count statistically.

The game ended on a failed Jaguars onside kick attempt.

In the end, Flacco probably did not play as well as is stat line appears.   His play was uneven.   He was able to capitalize on some defensive gimme mistakes.   But Flacco made his lay ups for the most part.   He did a nice job to buy himself the few seconds it took for Bell to pop open on the fourth down play and executed the play fake well and hit Njoku in stride on his second touchdown, letting David do the rest.

Lawrence played far worse than his stat line appears.  He served the game up to Cleveland on a silver platter by missing some wide-open receivers, he threw back-breaking interceptions and failed to take advantage of the injury-decimated Cleveland defense.    It is not magical thinking to entertain that had journeyman CJ Bethard started and played to the same level he has throughout his career as a backup, the Jaguars would be the ones celebrating an ugly win.

So is linebacker Josh Allen justified in his comments?   Yes and no.   

Lawrence’s just God-awful play put the Jags defense in the kind of bind that, in the abstract, giving up thirty-one points is not as bad as it sounds.   Of the Jags’ 27 points on offense, 14 were generated as the result of short- field touchdowns (22 and 25 yards) thanks to defensive take-aways.   Of the Browns’ 31 points that the Jags gave up, 17 were scored on short fields after the Jaguar offense turned it over.   One of the two remaining Browns touchdowns was scored because of a blown defensive assignment.   Lawrence's inept effort took away what could have been a decent day on defense for the Jags, even with the misplays.

Playoff Preview?

Could this be a preview to an AFC wild card matchup?     Browns fans can certainly hope.   The road seems to be getting tougher as more injury news comes in.   Today the Browns announced that big Thanos is done for the season.  It’s not clear when or if Wills will make it back.   Having lost Jack Conklin early, the Browns are trying to get by with their fourth and fifth tackles in James Hudson III and Geron Christian.  Not ideal for a quarterback who lacks mobility.

Sunday’s game saw injuries to two-fourths of the defensive line rotation – Elliot, Hurst, Smith and Okoronkwo.   Miles Garrett is playing with one arm.

With injuries to Grant Delpit and Juan Thornhill, having lost Rodney McCloud, the Browns are playing to undrafted free agents – one a rookie and the other a second-year player.

Who knows when Ward will play again.

The Browns have the resurgent Bears next up on the schedule, still must play the Jets’ tougher than nails defense and will face the Bengals with red hot Jake Browning.    And don’t forget that they also will play the offensive rookie of the year and a team fighting for its playoff life on the road.

It is a tough road ahead.

In contrast, the Jaguars have a tough one against the Ravens coming nest week, followed by winnable games against the Buccaneers, Jaguars and Titans.  With a one game lead, a 2-2 finish in these games will likely secure the Jaguars a division championship.

Because the Jaguars will likely have the weakest record of all division champions, the Browns would likely need to go 3-1 in the last four games to stay on top of the wild card standings and earn a soft landing in Jacksonville, who is better on the road than at home this year.

The Ravens, Dolphins or Chiefs would all pose much more difficult opponents and road environments.

Quit Joshing me – the Browns are 8-5 and in playoff position.  Quit Joshing me – the Browns are 8-5 and in playoff position. Reviewed by AT Dawgger on 5:36 PM Rating: 5

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