CLEVELAND -- Chants of "Fla-cco, Fla-cco" cascaded down from the crowd Thursday night as the Cleveland Browns officially punched their ticket to the playoffs -- and the party in the stands carried over into the locker room afterward.

Led by quarterback Joe Flacco, the Browns (11-5) defeated the New York Jets 37-20 to clinch their first postseason appearance since 2020, and only their third since 1999.

"Pretty special night for this organization," Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Pretty special night for the fans out there."

Before an electric atmosphere, the Browns jumped on New York early and never relinquished control. Flacco threw three touchdown passes in the first half, including a 7-yard strike to running back Jerome Ford on the opening drive.

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Flacco passed for 296 yards in the first half, the most in any half in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Flacco has now thrown for more than 300 yards in every victory in Cleveland's four-game winning streak.

"This is obviously a very unique situation for me, so a lot of different emotions are going through my head," said Flacco, who is the first quarterback in NFL history to put up at least 250 passing yards and multiple passing touchdowns in each of his first five games with a new franchise. "The city has been so unbelievable. ... You can just tell they love football, and it's special going out there and playing for them."

Six weeks ago, Flacco didn't even have a team.

He went unsigned during the offseason, after spending the past three seasons with the Jets, and remained unsigned until Cleveland added him to its practice squad on Nov. 20 following a season-ending shoulder injury to starting quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Now, Flacco, who turns 39 next month, is leading this team into the postseason.

"Everybody always joked, even in Baltimore, was he elite?" Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley said of Flacco, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2012. "He's showing it. Not a lot of guys, especially veterans like him and his age, just coming from home, hanging with his kids, do what he's done. I told him after the game it's crazy to hear the Browns fans screaming, 'Flacco!' That was pretty wild to me, but I'm happy for him. Obviously we wanted to get the win, but just as a friend, as a fan, I'm definitely happy for him."

Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have only been to the postseason in 2002 and 2020. But when Cleveland clinched its postseason berth in the regular-season finale at home three years ago, its stadium was mostly empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday's scene was completely different, as Browns fans arrived early and stayed late, well after the final whistle.

"This meant the world, man," said tight end David Njoku, who finished with a game-high 134 receiving yards on six catches. "This team is resilient as f---, excuse my language. ... There was so much adversity this year. But we overcame it. I'm so proud of these guys. But we're not finished."

Despite losing several key players, including Watson and All-Pro running back Nick Chubb (knee) to season-ending injuries, the Browns are alone in the 5 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Cleveland also remains alive for the AFC North division title, and the No. 1 overall seed and first-round playoff bye.

"It's sweet going to the playoffs," running back Kareem Hunt said. "But now we're trying to not just make it to the playoffs -- we're trying to go the whole way."

ESPN's Rich Cimini contributed to this report.