Cleveland Brown’s fans love to wallow in their misery. The long list of duds. The infinite row of quarterback busts. The team left town only to return a few years later. And all of these defeats, including a 2017 winless season.
But Browns Nation received some amortization on Sunday when the Browns defeated their rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-22, in the regular season finals, qualifying for the NFL playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season of 18 years.
The two teams – the Steelers (12-4) as third seed in the AFC and the Browns (11-5) as sixth – will meet again next week in Pittsburgh in the wild card round.
The Browns win ended the longest playoff drought in the NFL (the Jets now take the top spot with a ten-year absence) and completed a makeover that began three years ago when Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield selected Draft as first choice in the NFL.
When asked what the win meant for the team’s fans, Mayfield said, “It means so much to this city.”
The win in front of a pandemic-limited crowd of roughly 12,000 fans at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland added satisfaction as it went against the Steelers, who have dominated the Browns for decades. Since the Steelers beat the Browns in the wildcard round in January 2003 – Cleveland’s last appearance after the season – Pittsburgh has won 29 of their 36 matchups.
During that fallow, the Browns blew 25 quarterbacks, 10 head coaches, and a ton of hope. The team has lost 91-196 since their last playoff appearance (a 0.317 percent gain), a stretch that spanned 14 seasons with double-digit losses. Their only winning season during this stretch was in 2007 when the Browns were 10-6.
The Steelers had won the AFC North and had no way of taking first place in the AFC and their goodbye in the first round. That’s why they sat down with several of their best players on Sunday, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Browns were understaffed too. Six players were on the Covid-19 list and several offensive linemen were injured. Cleveland missed a start against the Jets last week due to a team breakout. Since then, several more players and coaches have been added to the Covid list.
This added to the challenge for the Browns, despite playing at home and against the Steelers’ backup quarterback Mason Rudolph.
The Browns opened with a bang, scoring a touchdown and field goal for their first three possessions.
But the Steelers kept the game close with three field goals over three quarters. However, the Browns found a way to stay one step ahead.
After Pittsburgh reduced the score to 10-9, Mayfield struggled 28 yards to keep the next ride alive. He then hit Austin Hooper with a 2-yard touchdown pass to give the Browns a 17-9 lead.
On the following drive, MJ Stewart of the Browns intercepted Rudolph and returned the ball to the Pittsburgh 20-yard line. Broad receiver Jarvis Landry ran four games later for a touchdown to increase the lead to 24-9.
No Browns win over the Steelers is easy. Rudolph hit wide receiver Chase Claypool for a 28 yard score. On the next trip, the Steelers released Mayfield to push the Browns out of reach of the field gate. They then failed to convert a fourth game down, which returned the ball to the Steelers in 3 minutes and 35 seconds.
Rudolph hit wide receiver Diontae Johnson for a 47-yard deal and then threw a touchdown on JuJu Smith-Schuster to reduce the score to 24-22.
The Browns abandoned the 2-point conversion to maintain the lead but nearly fiddled with recovery from an onside kick. It wasn’t until Mayfield ran 3 yards for an initial relegation that the Browns were able to run out of time, secure victory, and stamp their ticket for the postseason.