EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - The Cleveland Browns are almost there, nearing the end of nearly two decades of frustration.
They are nearing their first playoff spot since 2002 - the longest postseason drought in the NFL - and it could happen Sunday with a win over the 1-13 New York Jets and a combination of losses from others.
That put Baker Mayfield and the Browns (10-4), long one of the league's most lambasted franchises, into national focus. It could be nice to hear - if they would pay attention to everything. Having to protect yourself from these external distractions is not currently on the schedule.
"I'd say yes, but this team wasn't listening when we threw all of us in the trash," Mayfield said. '' So no. ''
Here's what needs to happen for Cleveland to make the playoffs: The Browns win for the second Sunday in a row at MetLife Stadium after beating the Giants 20-6 last week, and a loss or a draw from Baltimore or Miami or a loss from Indianapolis. Cleveland could also win with a draw against the Jets and a loss to Baltimore or Miami.
A Browns win could also do something that seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago: a week 17 home game against Pittsburgh (11: 3) for the AFC North title when the Steelers beat the visiting Colts (10: 1) on Sunday ) lose 4).
"If we do our business - I know I said it weeks ago - we'll be where we want to be," said Mayfield, who has 10 TD passes and only one interception in his last four games.
Due to a positive COVID-19 test and subsequent contact tracing, they'll have to forego four broad receivers, including Jarvis Landry, along with the start of middle linebacker B.J. Goodson and his successor Jacob Phillips. Goodson was added to the COVID-19 list after testing positive. Landry and other recipients, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and KhaDarel Hodge, were also later added to the list.
The Browns don't overlook the low jets either. Not after Adam Gases' squad stunned the Rams at 23:20 last Sunday in Los Angeles to end a 13-game loss and the chatter about New York joining the Detroit Lions in 2008 and the Browns in 2017 being the only one. Eliminate NFL team.
"It took a long time," said rookie Mekhi Becton. "I've wanted this feeling for a while, so it felt really great."
Many Jets fans were in the unusual position of being annoyed about a win because their team dropped from 1st place in the draft to 2nd place behind Jacksonville.
But now that the Jets have won one victory, the players are hungry for another.
"The whole mood was different, everyone was happy," Becton said of the week's exercises. '' We want to get that feeling again. ''
Sam Darnold faces an uncertain future with the Jets but shows his best performance of the season. He also recalled why he was number 3 overall in 2018 - two spots after Mayfield was overtaken by the Browns.
Darnold was 22 of 31 for 207 yards and a best season end of 71% with a touchdown and no turnovers against the Rams. Darnold's 99.8 quarterback rating was also a high for this season.
"Just keep playing," Gase said of what the QB needs to do to move forward. "I think it's really just about being consistent week after week and just trying to do those little things that a lot of people don't notice and that keep us on the field."
T-D FOR TWO
The Browns score 1: 2 like no other team.
"It's definitely a two-headed monster," said Gase.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have both scored 10 touchdowns, making them the first pair of Cleveland backs since Leroy Hoard, 11 and Kevin Mack, 10 hit double digits in 1991.
If Chubb or Hunt scores it usually means the Browns win. You're 10-1 if either of them gets into the end zone.
With Cleveland relying on their passing game lately, Chubb (931 yards) and Hunt (793) should have fresher legs on the track.
"You have to do a good job getting these guys on the ground because they are doing better than anyone in the league when it comes to hitting yards after contact and creating explosive games," said Gase. '' You help make life easier for everyone else. ''
Becton had an impressive rookie season in which he earned the respect of opponents, media and fans for his pancake blocks on the highlight role and consistently solid play.
The number 11 in last April's draft received the most fan votes for the Pro Bowl but was not selected for the NFL's All-Star Game. The fan vote makes up 1/3 of the votes, the rest is made up of coaches and players.
"The solo awards will come when they come," said Becton. `` Maybe I have to do better. ''
When asked if he intended to see his name on the Pro Bowl list in the next few years, Becton replied in one word, "Absolutely."
Cleveland's robust offensive line is facing some turmoil, including the launch of rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills, who will be put on the COVID-19 list on Thursday and then activated on Saturday.
Right guard Wyatt Teller is expected to miss his second straight game with a sprained ankle. Rookie Nick Harris will make his first start.
Harris joined Cleveland's third game last week after Chris Hubbard, who stood in for Harris, sustained a knee injury at the end of the season. It's nothing new for the fifth round from Washington. He started his college career at the center, moved to the guard, and then returned to the center.
"It's like the cycle of life," said Harris. `` Everything just repeats itself, I swear. In the end, I played earlier than I thought. Here I am and played earlier than I thought I would in my NFL career. ''
AP sports journalist Tom Withers contributed to this.
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