For almost the entire modern era of the NFL, the Cleveland Browns have been synonymous with Very Bad Things: Embarrassed fans covering their faces with paper bags, a litany of tragic quarterbacks and a painful series of lost seasons.
Yet here we are in a pandemic full of oddities, including Cleveland’s transformation into a normal and respectable franchise. Led by first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski, they were 11-5 in the regular season by not falling apart during the final second of games, having a legitimate quarterback in Baker Mayfield who continues to evolve, and instilling a cultural change.
Despite the organization’s clear upward trajectory, and despite a playoff berth for the first time since 2002, a real The postseason victory seemed a bit of a stretch. Yes, some of that is a persistent stigma. We’re still talking about the Browns, a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since 1995, before Mayfield was even born. A team not far enough away from Hue Jackson and Freddie Kitchens to feel a real sense of comfort.
But most of the skepticism going into their wild card fight against the Steelers was situational, that is, the untimely outbreak of Covid-19 from the Browns. Not only did they enter Heinz Field with four fewer players, including starting cornerback Denzel Ward and All Pro left guard Joel Bitonio, but they were also without Stefanski. Because the Browns’ facility was closed, almost all practices were virtual before Sunday’s game. Stefanski handed over the head coach’s reins to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, as he sat in his basement watching the game, unable to communicate with his staff and players.
All the odds were against Cleveland, including an opponent who has owned them for the past decade. Then the unthinkable happened. The Browns had a legendary performance and beat the Steelers 48-37. Yes, the Cleveland Browns won a playoff game.
The Browns came away possessed, as if a higher power decided that the misery of the franchise was enough. Cleveland’s party started in the blink of an eye when the first play of the game passed over Ben Roethlisberger’s head into the end zone, where Browns safety Karl Joseph landed for a touchdown. (Just as Stefanski had undoubtedly planned).
Somehow he was 28-0 before the end of the first quarter. Cleveland’s opportunistic defense took advantage of Pittsburgh’s mistakes, including three rogue passes by Roethlisberger that they intercepted. They blocked the Steelers’ passing attack and, like most teams this season, their running game. Roethlisberger looked frustrated and shocked, a rare and welcome sight for Browns fans.
In the meantime, Mayfield was able to control the pace by serving the ball quickly and utilizing Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who both got away with Pittsburgh’s defensive front, especially in the red zone.
Trailing 35-10 at the half, the Steelers soon cut the lead to 12 points. The sudden sense of dread was all too familiar to Cleveland residents. The momentum had clearly changed. Losing this way, to this team, in this circumstance, would rank up to Cleveland’s pantheon of tragic defeats.
But then the Browns got a little assist from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Despite getting into an offensive rhythm and pushing the Browns back into a corner, Tomlin disconcertingly kicked a quarter and one from Pittsburgh’s 46 late in the third quarter.
The Browns regained their offensive mojo and responded quickly as Nick Chubb fought his way to a 40-yard touchdown. Jarvis Landry was also crucial on the drive and a rock throughout the game. The Steelers would respond with a quick score, but it was too late.
The Browns emerged through their mountain of adversity with a distinctive victory, one that will not soon be forgotten and that will unite these players forever. The Covid situation was so dire that when Bitonio’s replacement got hurt in the game, Mayfield wasn’t even sure who he was. “A guy named Blake who I literally introduced myself to before the game stepped up in the fourth quarter,” Mayfield said after the game. (For the record, his full name is Blake Hance).
We’ll see how much magic dust is left when Cleveland heads to Kansas City next week. But hey, it’s the Browns. Why would you discard them?
MVP of the week
Lamar jackson I could easily be MVP this week, but we will Josh allen. A regular in this section, Allen went on to show why he is one of the best in the NFL in Buffalo’s 27-24 win over Indianapolis. His combination of physique and arm strength was a demonstration as was his decision making and his ability to hit his second and third options. Allen earned yet another honor, becoming the first quarterback in a playoff game to throw for more than 300 yards, (324) run for more than 50 yards (54), and complete at least 70% of his passes (74 %).
Video of the week
Jackson misses the MVP, but he definitely scored the weekend’s touchdown with this scorching 48-yard run. Some described it as the best career by a quarterback in playoff history. It’s certainly in the equation and shows why the Ravens are a danger to whatever team they face.
Statistics of the week
Derrick Henry: 18 carries, 40 yards, 0 touchdowns. Jackson was huge when he finally won a playoff game, but the biggest key to the Ravens’ victory was putting down Henry. Henry’s total yardage was his lowest this season, as was his 2.2 yards per carry. It was also the first game of the season in which Henry did not have a run of at least 10 yards.
Quote of the week
“Two weeks ago you saw them smoking cigars and excited to beat us and win the division and we can come here and beat them in their own place.” – Jared Goff after the Rams’ win over the Seahawks on Saturday.
When the Seahawks donned the championship team, lit cigars and celebrated an NFC West title after beating the Rams in Week 16, they gave Los Angeles all the extra motivation it needed. Goff performed as well as a guy who underwent thumb surgery for two weeks, but it was the Rams’ dominant defense that won this game. As is becoming tradition, Russell Wilson was crushed by the Rams’ defensive front and possessed by the entire defense. Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd each had two sacks. Darious Williams jumped a bubble screen (a type of pass that is NEVER intercepted) for a pick six. The Let Russ Cook MVP candidate we saw in the first half of the season has been a pedestrian at best for the past seven games.
Elsewhere in the league
– Indianapolis and Tennessee are going to have bitter seasons, thanks to questionable calls from their head coaches. With Tennessee trailing 17-13 early in the fourth quarter, Mike Vrabel chose to punt on fourth-and-two from the Ravens’ 40-yard line, despite having 2,000-yard running back Derrick Henry on the field. It was a decision that defied analytics and basic logic. Meanwhile, Frank Reich’s aggressive decision to go for the fourth and the goal of all four up 10-7 with 1:53 left in the first half failed when Philip Rivers missed Michael Pittman. The Colts ultimately lost by three points.
– On paper, a game with Taylor Heinicke and Tom Brady in the center seemed ridiculous. Heinicke was last seen working at the now-defunct AAF and was only playing because of Alex Smith’s calf injury, while Tom Brady is, well, Tom Brady. It turns out that we all underestimated Heinicke, who was sensational and kept Washington at it until the end. His ability to toss dime after dime was impressive. But his fight in the third quarter that put Washington within two points of a tie instantly won him millions of fans. including Patrick Mahomes. Despite the eventual loss to Tampa Bay, Heinicke has the attention of the NFL and will be an interesting option for Washington next season as they sort out the future of his quarterback position.
– The Saints easily advanced to the divisional round after ending the Bears season 21-9. Chicago imploded with a toxic mix of poor execution and lack of discipline, including four offside penalties on third and fourth down attempts. It’s safe to say that Mitchell Trubisky’s future in Chicago is dubious and Matt Nagy’s should be questionable. Meanwhile, Drew Brees did what Brees does and slowly disarmed the Bears defense.
– CBS’s youth-oriented broadcast of the Bears-Saints showdown on Nickelodeon was a huge success. The end zone was renamed the limo zone, Young Sheldon came out with nice explanations of basic soccer terms, and analyst Nate Burleson was a magician with analogies: “Mitch Trubisky’s season was like getting a C in class, but the postseason is like the teacher giving you the opportunity to get extra credit. “
– Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson is unhappy with the organization for not giving him a voice as they replenish key roles in the front office and hire a head coach. Specifically, Watson is said to be upset that Texans are not extending an in-person interview to their preferred candidate, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Watson’s potential to demand a trade has several fans salivating.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism