Cleveland and playoff heartbreak often go hand in hand, and the Browns’ latest playoff loss was no exception.
It’s easy to talk about Rashard Higgins’ fumble out of the end zone in the first half after a controversial success by the safety of chefs Daniel Sorensen and name it “The Touchback”. It’s easy to wonder how the defense got backup quarterback Chad Henne to fight for the third down and convert to fourth and 1 at Tyreek Hill, who closed Kansas City’s 22-17 playoff win. AFC Sunday.
That kind of playoff pain now runs through at least three generations of fans since the franchise’s last NFL Championship in 1964.
Here’s the alternate point of view: Cleveland has proven it belongs in this stage, and the franchise will return to it in the near future under the leadership of coach Kevin Stefanski. Sunday was a learning experience and the Browns will benefit from it in the coming seasons.
The biggest lesson? Cleveland didn’t take an opportunity to upset the defending Super Bowl champions when Patrick Mahomes left the game with a concussion.
The Browns had the ball eight minutes to go and followed five after Karl Joseph intercepted an ill-advised pass from Henne in the end zone. They then ran six games, burned a timeout and faced a fourth and a 9 from their 32-yard line with 4:19 to go. Stefanski chose to punt, and it will be the decision that will perhaps last the longest.
Stefanski could win the NFL Coach of the Year award, but that call gave Reid – who has been pursued for 21 seasons as a head coach for failing to win the Super Bowl until last season. – the return benefit.
It turned into a huge missed opportunity. That’s how slim the margin for error is in the playoffs.
Henne made two big plays, a third and 14 scrambling and a veteran in the fourth and one to break the ball off his 48. Henne, who lost four straight games to Ohio State with Michigan from 2004-07, got one. long-awaited, crooked return on investment among the pros.
Yeah, that’s gonna hurt Cleveland. It’s supposed to hurt. That’s the kind of pain the franchise hasn’t felt since the 1985 season. It was then that the Dolphins recovered from a 21-3 deficit behind Dan Marino for a 24-21 victory in the AFC division playoffs on January 4, 1986.
The Browns went to the AFC Championship game three of the next four seasons, where they experienced next-level heartache at the hands of the Broncos. This loss, although painful, is far from being at this level for diehards of the second and third generations.
Can the Cleveland team of this generation reach this level?
There should be reason to be optimistic. Baker Mayfield turned the corner in his third season. Stefanski maximized the quarterback’s abilities after Odell Beckham Jr.’s season-ending injury, and the tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt felt like Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner again. Mayfield and Chubb still have one year on their respective contracts, and Hunt has two more.
Mayfield will also learn. He finished 23 of 37 for 204 yards, one TD and one interception the Chiefs failed to capitalize on, but he was also just 12 of 20 for 70 yards in the second half. The Browns rushed for just 18 yards in the first half; they finished with 112.
Myles Garrett, who had a sack on the play before Henne’s scramble, is locked out until 2026. He has had 12 sacks this season and will continue to lead a defense that needs to improve at the back around the cornerback. Denzel Ward. The unit couldn’t get that save at the end, but it’s also part of the playoff process.
Cleveland is no longer a joke. It was the last team left standing in the AFC playoffs among their divisional brethren, even though their loss came just a day after the Bills rebounded the Ravens. The Steelers have more questions in the offseason than the Browns after their turnover-related implosion in the wildcard round, and the Bengals are a few steps behind as they rebuild around top pick Joe Burrow.
Thanks Stefanski for that. He’s the modern-day Marty Schottenheimer of the franchise, and he proved it in an incredibly tough 2020 season. Stefanski will learn from his decision, and the Browns should move on. Cleveland will be picked to win the AFC North in 2021, and unlike 2019, that prediction has some substance.
Of course, no one will want to talk about it for the next 48 hours. Cleveland fans are going to lament the helmet-to-helmet hit on Higgins and the fumble rule out of the end zone. They’ll wonder how Henne pulled off that first try, and they’ll question Stefanski for his decision in the fourth and ninth.
They shouldn’t have to dwell on it forever. It’s another part of the playoff process, and for a franchise that knows all too well “there’s always next year,” those prospects will be a lot more exciting when the pain eases, especially when they see their cousins. From the Great Lakes to Buffalo swing to Kansas City in the AFC Championship game.
It hurts, but it’s a different kind of pain. This should come knowing that more playoff excitement is in the near future.
Success will soon be hand in hand.