Johnny Hector rushed for two short touchdowns today to help the New York Jets into the playoffs with a 37-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
The Jets (11-5) will play host to New England in the AFC wild-card game Saturday. The Browns (8-8), who have a bye next week as AFC Central champions, finished with the worst record of any division winner in NFL history (Minnesota's 8-7-1 NFC Central-winning record in 1978 had been the worst). Cleveland plays at Miami in two weeks.
"We're 8-8 and we'll make no apologies," said Browns Coach Marty Schottenheimer, whose team had clinched the division title before the season finale. "Everybody knew the rules at the beginning of the season. I know the makeup of this team. There was no absence of effort, just execution."
Both the Browns and Jets are going to the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
The Jets' Pat Leahy had three field goals -- giving him 12 straight -- but it was Kurt Sohn's weird 39-yard touchdown, at 13:17 of the first quarter with Cleveland holding a 7-3 lead, that helped turn the game in New York's favor. It was the result of a cast on defensive back Don Rogers' right arm to protect a broken thumb.
Ken O'Brien's pass was overthrown to Rogers, who had it bounce off his chest and cast. Sohn, the intended receiver, wrestled it away at the Cleveland eight and scored.
The Browns, who had taken the lead when Brian Brennan returned Dave Jennings' weak punt 37 yards for a touchdown, tied it at 10 on Matt Bahr's 32-yard field goal. Ozzie Newsome's 24-yard reception highlighted the drive.
But New York went ahead for good at 17-10 after Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar was sacked by Mark Gastineau and fumbled at his own 13. Linebacker Bob Crable fell on the ball, and Hector swept in from the five on third down.
"When we lost in the opener in L.A. (31-0 to the Raiders), everybody was saying that the Jets stink, that they're not going anywhere," Sohn said. "But then we got on a roll, we won five in a row. When you do that, everybody gets along better than if you're 1-5. It's not that I think we snuck up on anybody but the win streak got us going in the right direction."
Earnest Byner gained 101 yards on 15 carries to run his season total to 1,002, joining teammate Kevin Mack (1,104) as 1,000-yard rushers. They are the third set of NFL teammates to gain more than 1,000 yards in the same season.
Tight end Mickey Shuler caught six passes to give him 76 for the season, a Jets record.
Jets tackle Ted Banker was taken from the field on a stretcher in the first quarter with a broken right leg.