Wacky stuff happens when the Cleveland Browns play the Jacksonville Jaguars. Where it comes from, or why it happens? No one seems to know. It’s not like these two are traditionally rivals or something. They don’t play in the same division, neither have a history of being overwhelmingly good over the past two decades, but games played between the two of them always feel…off.
I know that I’m not alone in this, either. Throughout the past week, I’ve heard quite a few football analysts in Cleveland mention just how weird Jaguars games are for the Browns. It all seems to come back to that…incident. But before we can run, we have to walk, so why not take a walk down memory lane for Cleveland vs. Jacksonville football. And we can start with the newest iteration, where the weird factor was out in full force.
2020, Week Twelve
Coming into this one, the Browns were 7-3, right in the mix of the AFC playoff race for the first time in years, and rolling even without Myles Garrett. At 1-9, Jacksonville were clearly tanking for Justin Fields, even starting Mike Glennon at quarterback, who hadn’t seen an NFL snap since 2017. Let’s commence the weirdness.
First play of the game, former Jaguar and current Browns budding star safety Ronnie Harrison gets injured. With Garrett out with the coronavirus, and cornerback Denzel Ward injured for the next few weeks, Harrison was Cleveland’s best remaining defender.
Fast forward to the waning moments of the game, and we get an unbelievably weird fourth down call. With the Browns trying to put away the game (that was, of course, far too close), this spot was ruled short of a first down. Perhaps there’s an angle here that I’m not seeing, but this feels like an obvious first down, right?
2014, Week Six
Allow me to set the scene.
Hot off the heels of one of their biggest divisional wins since 1999, the 3-2 Cleveland Browns were heading to northern Florida to take on a Jaguars team that had yet to win a game. Hometown quarterback Brian Hoyer was playing the role of a most unlikely hero, and the Browns were staring 4-2 in the face.
And then they completely fell flat. Hoyer looked terrible, the Jaguars had their way against the Browns’ rushing defense, and Cleveland looked like a shell of the team they were just the week before, to the tune of a 24-6 loss.
As a Browns fan, I will never be able to forget this game simply because of how much it annoys me. If not for this game, the Browns would have ripped off six straight wins coming out of their bye week. But instead, CLE/JAX weirdness struck again and they got consumed by a trap game to send them to 3-3.
2013, Week Thirteen
This game takes significantly less time to set up what was so weird about it. While the Browns would go on to lose this game, it would include one of the greatest single-game efforts by a receiver in the history of the NFL. Josh Gordon’s stat line included 261 receiving yards and two touchdowns, a feat made all the more impressive when you consider his quarterback was Brandon Weeden. This was also the second straight week Gordon had collected over 200 receiving yards, an accomplishment never seen before, or since, in the NFL. I will never not be sad about Josh Gordon’s career.
“The Incident”: 2001, Week Fourteen
And here we are. The biggest, most awful, most tragic event in Browns vs. Jaguars history. They call it…Bottlegate. Now, Bottlegate has been covered in so many places, so many times, so I’ll spare my dear readers the exact details. But know this: in this game, the NFL broke one of its core rules, and disregarded a major, important tenet of its replay system. Here’s how it went down.
Any NFL fan worth their salt knows that once a new play has been called, the previous play cannot be reviewed. This is the core rule that the NFL tossed to the wayside during Bottlegate. Following what was called a completion on fourth down, Browns quarterback Tim Couch had ran up and spiked the ball, which counted as the next play. The officiating crew wanted to review the previous play. Under any circumstance, this is an illegal desire. But inexplicably, the NFL allowed it. And this is where things start to get wild.
They reversed the call from one play earlier, and gave Jacksonville the ball.
Mass chaos would ensue inside Cleveland Browns Stadium. Beer bottles rained down on the game’s referees, with over 72,000 fans in attendance expressing their distaste for the officials breaking the rule. The league, in a decision with perhaps even less regard for the lives of the players and referees, made the teams finish the game as the bottles continued to fly. After two kneel-downs by Jacksonville, this one was over.
Try as the league might to make us forget, this game will forever live on in the hearts and minds of fans. This game is the very genesis of CLE/JAX weirdness. Not to be melodramatic, but I truly believe that this singular moment is why this matchup feels so weird every single time. There is a curse on these two franchises, forcing them to be wacky until the end of their days, and Bottlegate is to blame.