Rather, it has been the five-game losing streak that preceded the team's backward entry into the playoffs, as the least-worthy contender on the postseason manifest.
Those failures were forgotten last Sunday, when the Jets routed Kansas City, 35-15, in the AFC wild-card game and avoided a sixth straight loss. But given a season-ending defeat hard by the wind-chilled shores of Lake Erie, the failures will be remembered often through a long winter of fan discontent.
All in all, the underdog Jets would just as soon avoid such disgrace by winning and moving a step closer to Super Bowl XXI.
To do that, the Jets almost certainly will need another accomplished performance from Freeman McNeil, the oft-injured running back whose truncated season has mirrored that of his team.
The most publicized element of last Sunday's wild-card victory was Joe Walton's tardy realization that quarterback Ken O'Brien had become the Jets' Jonah. Thus followed the ensuing decision that made a starter of 33-year-old Pat Ryan, the veteran backup.
But it was equally significant that the Jets got a superb performance from McNeil, who missed five games early in the season with a shoulder injury that limited the six-year veteran to 856 yards and 5 touchdowns this season, after he had rushed for more than 1,000 yards in the 1984 and '85 seasons.
With his third 100-yard game in his last three starts, McNeil damaged the Chiefs by running for 135 yards on 31 carries.
"Freeman McNeil is the key to the Jets' offense," said Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer. "When he can run, throwing the ball to (Al) Toon, (Wesley) Walker and (Mickey) Shuler becomes all that much easier."
OUT OF WHACK
Schottenheimer, the sixth head coach in Cleveland history, is a former defensive coordinator. But he knows plenty about the interdependent elements that make up an offense and how they can be thrown out of whack.
He was reminded of that the hard way this season, when Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner, who each rushed for 1,000-plus yards in 1985, were sidelined by injuries and managed to play only seven quarters together.
Mack, a member of the 1985 AFC Pro Bowl team, sustained a shoulder injury in the Browns' season opener at Chicago that forced him to miss four games and most of two others. The injury continued to bother him through most of the season, and he finished with 665 yards.
Byner was the Browns' leading receiver (37 catches) and rusher (277 yards) when he tore ligaments in his ankle against the Packers in Game 7 and was lost for the rest of the regular season, although he may be able to return today.
The occasion of Byner's injury marked a strange day for the Browns, whose record dropped to 4-3 when they finished the Packer game with an unexpected 17-14 loss.
Schottenheimer made a significant tactical change at that point, with the help of offensive coordinator Lindy Infante.
The remaining game plans began to rely heavily on Bernie Kosar, the 23- year-old, 6-foot-5 quarterback whose most outstanding accomplishment in his second NFL season has been his 1.88 percent interception rate.
With Kosar throwing the ball for 3,854 yards, the third best total in the history of the franchise, the Browns won 8 of their last 9, to finish with the AFC Central Division championship and the best record in the conference.
"The main thing with our team," said Kosar, "is that we are a team."
"They began playing together," McNeil said earlier this week. "That's the key to everything. We learned."
Jets fans shall see.
NOTES. Each player in today's game will be richer for the experience by $10,000. The winning team will meet the winner of tomorrow's New England- Denver semifinal in the AFC championship game and a trip to the Super Bowl.