EAST RUTHERFORD N.J. — EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The season is only two games old, but the New York Jets have said a lot about themselves.
They can score points in bunches. The defense, though inconsistent, is capable of making big plays. And, judging by the way they handled themselves late in the game yesterday against the Cleveland Browns, they must be maturing.
Instead of running scared (see last week's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals), the Jets ran with the poise of a seasoned marathoner. In the end, they showed a little kick in beating the Browns, 24-21.
It could have been Cincinnati all over again, but, this time, the Jets didn't get frazzled. This time, the defense wasn't bullied, forcing the Browns to punt on two of their three fourth-quarter possessions. The offense, though it failed to deliver the knockout punch, managed to hold the ball long enough to run out the clock, preserving a victory before a home-opening crowd of 67,354 at Giants Stadium.
Bruce Coslet, savoring his first win as Jets coach, said he was impressed with his players' mettle, how they refused to relinquish a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
"We experienced [a lead] last week, and we didn't get it done," said Coslet, who was presented an honorary game ball to commemorate the occasion. "We weren't going to let that happen to us again."
Center Jim Sweeney, acknowledging a sense of deja vu, said: "All of a sudden, it hit me. I said, 'Wait a minute; this isn't cool. We can't let this happen again.'"
They did not, but there were a few anxious moments. After a 9-yard touchdown run by Leroy Hoard that sliced a 24-7 halftime lead to three, the Jets received the ball with 1:53 remaining. They didn't clinch the win until quarterback Ken O'Brien, improvising on a busted third-and-five play from his 30-yard line, ran for 8 yards and a first down with 26 seconds left.
"It was like a bad dream you couldn't forget," Jets defensive tackle Dennis Byrd said of last week's 25-20 loss, in which the Jets led, 20-10. "There was never a time today we felt we were going to give the game up."
Coslet, describing the emotion of his first win, said: "The first one is always good. It's sweet. We'll celebrate the victory."
The Browns (1-1) took a 7-0 lead when Eric Metcalf returned the opening kickoff 98 yards, but the Jets defense took control. The pass rush -- led by Byrd and Jeff Lageman (one sack apiece) -- exploited the Browns' patchwork line and exerted constant pressure on Bernie Kosar (24-for-41, 233 yards, one touchdown). The Browns offense didn't score its first touchdown of the season until 5:30 remained in the third quarter, when Kosar hit Reggie Langhorne with a 4-yard scoring pass.
"The defensive line was phenomenal," linebacker Kyle Clifton said. "They had only three sacks, but how many pressures did they have? They were great."
So was the offense -- at least in the first half, when the Jets scored on four of their first six possessions. Coslet, who used a wide-open attack and several trick plays last week, employed a more conservative game plan. The Jets ran 40 times for 170 yards, overpowering a defense that held the Steelers to 49 rushing yards.
Freeman McNeil, cutting and slashing like the old days, ran for 62 yards on 13 carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run. The 31-year-old halfback also caught a sideline pass at the Cleveland 45 and sliced his way to the 1 for a 59-yard pass play -- the longest of his career. In the huddle on the next play, O'Brien (13-for-21, 218 yards, no interceptions). cracked a joke: "If that was the young Freeman, he would've scored." When you're rolling, you can afford to joke.
The pass set up Brad Baxter's 1-yard touchdown, which made it 24-7 midway through the second quarter.