CLEVELAND — Eric Mangini's first season – warts and all – with Cleveland is in the books. He can only hope it was good enough to get him a second.
Jerome Harrison rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown and Josh Cribbs ran for a TD as the Browns beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-17 on Sunday, giving Cleveland its first four-game winning streak since 1994 to push Mangini into an uncertain offseason with momentum to fight for his job.
While the Browns (5-11) ended their season on a high, they ended Jacksonville's razor-thin AFC playoff hopes. The Jaguars (7-9), who had to win and needed four other teams to lose just to qualify, will have the months ahead to ponder what went wrong. They dropped their last four games.
Playing on a slippery, snow-covered field, the Florida visitors were mostly out of their element and lost for the first time in six visits to Cleveland.
Mangini, who was doused by orange Gatorade in the closing seconds, left the field not knowing if he'll walk on it again as Cleveland's coach.
Team president Mike Holmgren is scheduled to take over on Monday, and the former Green Bay and Seattle coach said last week that he intends to meet with Mangini soon after his arrival. Holmgren said he would only need a "little while" to decide whether to bring back Mangini, whose Belichikian personality irritated some Cleveland fans and whose discipline – long practices, pop quizzes, fines – had some of the Browns in an uproar.
If Mangini is indeed through, he went out with the longest winning streak for a Cleveland coach since Bill Belichick.
And, if Holmgren has not yet made up his mind, Mangini gave him more to consider as he weighs whether to gut the Browns.
Cleveland's four-game winning streak – the club's longest since its expansion rebirth – was bookended with victories over Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, two quality teams that add credence to the Browns' late-season surge under Mangini, the former New York Jets coach who is trying to avoid joining Ray Rhodes (Philadelphia, 1998; Green Bay, 1999) as the only head coaches to get fired in consecutive full seasons by two different teams.
Harrison's emergence was one of many surprises for the Browns down the stretch. He made the most of his opportunity after Jamal Lewis sustained a season-ending injury and capped his three-week breakout by rushing for 561 yards on 106 carries.
His 6-yard TD run on 4th-and-1 with 4:03 left in the third quarter put the Browns ahead 20-3.
The Jaguars, who couldn't sustain their running attack against Cleveland's defense, pulled within 20-10 on David Garrard's 6-yard TD pass to tight end Zach Miller with 10:30 left. But Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson, who only attempted 11 passes, took the Browns on a 14-play drive that devoured more than eight minutes off the clock. Phil Dawson capped it with a 33-yard field goal to make it 23-10.
Garrard found Miller again on a 15-yard TD on the final play.
Dawson added field goals from 27 and 21 yards in the first half.
Following Anderson's interception on a poorly underthrown ball, the Browns turned to their running game – they finished with 214 yards rushing – to take a 10-3 lead in the second.
Given good field position after a short punt, the Browns handed it twice to Harrison for 24 yards, three times to Chris Jennings for 18 and once more to Harrison to get it to the Jaguars 14.
Cribbs then took the snap in the wildcat formation, started right, darted left and scored his first rushing TD this season – another sign of his versatility and another bargaining chip to use in his attempt to get the Browns to redo his deal.
Jacksonville gave it right back to Cleveland when Garrard's first-down pass sailed and was intercepted by cornerback Eric Wright. Cribbs' 25-yard run on an end around gave the Browns a first-and-goal at the 6, but they had to settle for Dawson's kick to go up 13-3.