EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The destination came into focus in the rain, snow and darkness of the swamp they call The Meadowlands.
Even a crazy fourth quarter that included three Jets onside kicks and 22 points couldn`t distort the destiny that`s back within the Browns` reach.
With three weeks left in the season, the Browns again control their playoff fate. Wins versus Buffalo, at Cincinnati and versus San Francisco, and the Browns (8-5) are in.
They couldn`t have done it without a 24-18 win over the New York Jets (3-10) on Sunday and the San Diego Chargers` overtime win over the Tennessee Titans (7-6).
"That was huge for us," said receiver Braylon Edwards, who admitted looking for the Titans result on the scoreboard. "We`re back where we could`ve been last week."
Coach Romeo Crennel and most of the players aren`t allowing themselves to talk about the playoffs, insisting on a one-game-at-a-time approach. But even Crennel couldn`t deny the importance of Cleveland`s third road win in seven tries and its recovery from last week`s ugly loss to Arizona.
"Nothing`s guaranteed in the NFL," he said. "I feel good about my guys being able to fight. We`ve got ourselves in decent position."
Owner Randy Lerner expressed the feeling of the fans at home. When Jamal Lewis broke through the line on a third-and-4 with 1:22 left for a 31-yard touchdown to give the Browns a 24-15 lead, Lerner slammed both hands on the counter in his loge in celebration.
"That was awesome," receiver Joe Jurevicius said. "Jamal looked like a man possessed."
The run proved to be the winner, but the game was far from over. The Jets got into field-goal range and kicked a 35-yarder to close within 24-18 with 32 seconds left. After offsetting penalties wiped out a deep kick that rolled out of bounds, Jurevicius recovered his second onside kick of the fourth quarter. He didn`t catch it cleanly, but grabbed it quickly to end the drama.
"I had it the whole time at the bottom of the pile," he said. "It was a hot potato."
"Joe did a great job," safety Sean Jones said.
Jurevicius, who is in a battle with Kellen Winslow for surest hands on the team, went 2-for-3 in onside recoveries. He lost the first one, as Brad Kassell recovered and the Jets climbed within 17-15. The artificial surface made for some big hops before the pileups near the Jets sideline.
"On the first one, (Kassell) made a great play," Jurevicius said. "He was able to time it well and knock the ball down.
"It`s tough with the elements and pressure. Everybody in the stadium knows where the ball`s going."
Had he ever seen three onside kicks in a game, let alone the final three minutes?
"No. And I hope I never do again," he said.
The Browns might not be talking playoffs, but their fans are definitely thinking about them. The Browns hold a one-game lead over the Titans (7-6) and Bills in the race for the second and final AFC wild-card spot. The Browns got the road win they needed following last week`s miserable loss and they got help from the Chargers, who scored a touchdown in the final seconds to force overtime.
"Every game counts from this point on," said Jones, who had an interception in the end zone in the second quarter to maintain a scoreless game.
Another slow start on the road - a theme that`s followed the Browns throughout the season - vanished with back-to-back touchdown drives sandwiching halftime. The spurt gave the Browns a 14-3 lead they never relinquished.
The Browns took a 7-0 lead with a gutsy drive at the end of the second quarter. Big throws from Derek Anderson to Winslow (team-high four catches for 34 yards) and Joshua Cribbs, who saw his most extended time of the year on offense, moved the Browns into Jets territory.
Then on fourth-and-4 from the Jets 40-yard line, after wasting a timeout because Anderson assumed they`d punt, Anderson threw a fade to the back shoulder of Edwards, who made a twisting catch with cornerback Darrelle Revis draped on him. The Jets challenged but the play stood. Anderson finished the drive with a 19-yard strike to backup tight end Steve Heiden and a 7-yarder to Lewis on a rollout.
After a Jets field goal to end the half, the Browns responded immediately after halftime. A short kickoff and a 20-yard return by Cribbs set up the drive at the 39-yard line.
Anderson found Edwards coming across the middle for a 45-yard catch-and-run to the 5-yard line. After a run, Anderson threw to Edwards in the corner of the end zone. Edwards (three catches, 63 yards) went over Revis again for his 13th touchdown of the year, tying Gary Collins` 44-year-old franchise record.
"They were just good throws and catches," said Revis, who gave up 4 inches to the 6-foot-3 Edwards.
Anderson went 16-for-29 for 185 yards with completions to eight receivers, a first-half interception and two touchdowns for an 83.3 rating. He again has bragging rights over Jets starter and fellow Oregonian Kellen Clemens, who went 24-for-41 for 286 yards, two interceptions and a 59.6 rating. The two talked before the game.
"This wasn`t about Kellen and Derek before the game and it wasn`t about Kellen and Derek after the game," Clemens said.
At the end of the game, it was about the Browns defense hanging on for dear life. They allowed just six points through 57 minutes, then allowed 12 in the frantic final three minutes. The Jets totaled 387 yards, 175 in the fourth quarter.
But Leon Williams and Leigh Bodden had pass breakups in the end zone late, and rookie Brandon McDonald added an interception earlier in the quarter.
"We made plays when plays needed to be made," Edwards said. "We did the things necessary to win the game."
They need to do it for three more weeks.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Browns 24, Jets 18
ClevelandÂ Â Â 0Â Â Â 7Â Â Â 7Â Â Â 10Â Â Â - Â Â Â Â Â Â 24
NY JetsÂ Â Â 0Â Â Â 3Â Â Â 3Â Â Â 12Â Â Â - Â Â Â Â Â Â 18
Cle - Lewis 7 pass from Anderson (Dawson kick), 1:15.
NYJ - FG Nugent 35, :00.
Cle - Edwards 4 pass from Anderson (Dawson kick), 12:32.
NYJ - FG Nugent 41, 2:50.
Cle - FG Dawson 49, 12:59.
NYJ - Clemens 1 run (pass failed), 2:59.
NYJ - FG Nugent 38, 1:43.
Cle - Lewis 31 run (Dawson kick), 1:22.
NYJ - FG Nugent 35, :32.
A - 76,822
CleÂ Â Â NYJ
First downsÂ Â Â 18Â Â Â 26
Total Net YardsÂ Â Â 337Â Â Â 387
Rushes-yardsÂ Â Â 29-152Â Â Â 30-119
PassingÂ Â Â 185Â Â Â 268
Punt ReturnsÂ Â Â 2-7Â Â Â 2-53
Kickoff ReturnsÂ Â Â 4-60Â Â Â 5-60
Interceptions Ret.Â Â Â 2-(-38)Â Â Â 1-13
Comp-Att-IntÂ Â Â 16-29-1Â Â Â 24-41-2
Sacked-Yards LostÂ Â Â 0-0Â Â Â 4-18
PuntsÂ Â Â 5-46.0Â Â Â 5-41.6
Fumbles-LostÂ Â Â 1-0Â Â Â 2-0
Penalties-YardsÂ Â Â 4-29Â Â Â 2-9
Time of PossessionÂ Â Â 27:59Â Â Â 32:01
RUSHING - Cleveland, Lewis 21-118, Harrison 2-21, Vickers 2-6, Cribbs 1-4, Anderson 3-3. N.Y. Jets, T.Jones 24-106, Clemens 3-8, Washington 3-5.
PASSING - Cleveland, Anderson 16-29-1-185. N.Y. Jets, Clemens 24-41-2-286.
RECEIVING - Cleveland, Winslow 4-34, Edwards 3-63, Lewis 3-19, Heiden 2-20, Cribbs 1-18, J.Wright 1-14, Vickers 1-10, Jurevicius 1-7. N.Y. Jets, Coles 7-48, Cotchery 6-119, Washington 4-31, Baker 3-48, B.Smith 3-27, T.Jones 1-13.