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Jets struggle in tough first half as defense and penalties lead to 37-20 loss against Flacco and Browns.

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CLEVELAND (AP) — By the time New York’s defense stiffened against Joe Flacco, the damage was done.

The Jets couldn’t overcome a brutal first half when Flacco carved up a secondary he knows well and New York was roughed up 37-20 on Thursday night by the Cleveland Browns, who clinched a playoff berth.

“The first half was horrendous,” said cornerback D.J. Reed. “It’s probably the worst we’ve been all season. Maybe the lights were too bright. We just didn’t do our jobs.”

Flacco, who spent the previous three seasons with the Jets, passed for 309 yards — 296 in the first half — as the Browns (11-5) built a 20-point lead and then held on over a sloppy final 30 minutes to send the Jets (6-10) to their seventh loss in nine games.

Cleveland amassed 166 yards in the first quarter, 367 in the opening half and finished with 428 — the most against the Jets this season.

“We demonstrated our style in the second half, but it was too late,” cornerback Sauce Gardner said. “I thought we had some opportunities to make plays, but we didn’t make plays. It’s unfortunate. In football, things happen.”

The Browns set the tone on their first drive, going 75 yards in seven plays to take the lead and further electrify a crowd that came ready to party. Cleveland tight end David Njoku was wide open for two long gains on the opening possession.

“That first quarter just wasn’t good,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “I appreciate the way the guys came out in the second half, but it wasn’t good enough all the way across the board. (Njoku) is a good player, but I feel like we had more control of it.”

Along with the defense being gashed — the Jets had their streak of not allowing 300 yards passing stopped at 33 games — penalties were again a major problem for New York.

The Jets were called for 12 penalties for 74 yards, just days after they committed 14 for 150 in a win over Washington.

On one drive in the first quarter, New York was whistled for too many men in the huddle and an illegal formation that wiped out a gain.

“Things like that have halted our drives all season and we haven’t fixed it,” said wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who had five catches for 50 yards but did go over 1,000 for the second time in as many seasons.

Adding to the sting of the loss for the Jets was that it came against Flacco, who wasn’t re-signed following last season or when New York found itself in a desperate situation when Aaron Rodgers was lost with a torn left Achilles tendon four snaps into his debut with the team.

Instead, the Jets paraded Tim Boyle, Zach Wilson and Trevor Siemian into the lineup with minimal success.

Siemian made his second straight start and played fairly well, completing 32 of 45 passes for 261 yards with touchdown and one interception.

With the Jets down 13-7, Siemian overthrew Garrett Wilson and was intercepted by Browns rookie safety Ronnie Hickman, who returned it 30 yards for a score.

Siemian accepted blame for his mistakes, and acknowledged being frustrated by the unforced errors.

“That’s my job,” he said. “I’m running the show out there. I’m the quarterback, so I have to know how many guys are on the field and make sure we are legal. I have to run the show and obviously didn’t do a good enough job.”

It has been a challenging season for Saleh, who had to navigate the Rodgers drama, speculation about his future and the constant pressure that comes along with coaching in New York.

At the end of his news conference, Saleh was asked why he didn’t seem more angry or upset.

He took a deep breath before answering.

“Do you want me to throw the podium on the floor?” he asked.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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