Monday, July 22, 2024

NFL Playoffs, Cleveland Browns wins first postseason game in 26 years

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So much for the weight of history. Or practice. Or have your head coach on the sidelines. Or an emotional leader in the field.

The Cleveland Browns have overcome it all. The burden of wearing the mantle of a franchise that has long been a line of force. A calendar ravaged by a COVID-19 epidemic. A rival who treated them for years like a harmless little brother.

This is all over. For the moment. And maybe for good.

The Browns dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers 48-37 in the wildcard round on Sunday night, claiming the franchise’s first playoff victory in more than a quarter of a century and traveling to Kansas City next Sunday to face the Champions. title of the Super Bowl.

“We believe in who is in the room no matter what,” said quarterback Baker Mayfield. “We knew that everyone counted us. There was no extra pressure or anything. No one believed in us except us.”

Playing with first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski, Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and top cornerback Denzel Ward returning to Cleveland after all testing positive for COVID-19, Cleveland (12-5) has raced to biggest first half by an NFL road team The story of the playoffs then continued.

Mayfield threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns, including a screen pass that Nick Chubb turned into a 40-yard scoreline that stopped Pittsburgh’s momentum after the Steelers retired at 12. turnover to hand the Steelers (12-5) a staggering loss.

The victory was the Browns’ first playoff triumph since defeating New England on New Year’s Day 1995 – three months before Mayfield was born – and their first road playoff victory since the 28 December 1969.

Importance has not been lost for special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, a Cleveland native who found himself bridging when Stefanski tested positive for COVID-19.

“I grew up (a Browns fan) so I know what that means,” Priefer said.

Cleveland did so despite training only once in the past two weeks and losing 17 in a row at Heinz Field. The Browns did it with efficiency and swagger. And they did it with Priefer at the helm and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt taking over the play call duties as Stefanski watched in his basement in Ohio.

“We have a resilient team,” Mayfield said. “The defense played really well in the first half and we kind of stalled and let them come back into the game, but it’s a great team win there – guys who progressed everywhere. am proud of these guys. “

The Steelers certainly helped, ending a season in which they started 11-0 with a thud that could echo for years to come. Ben Roethlisberger ended his comeback season throwing for 501 yards on an NFL record 47 successes with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

“I don’t have magic answers,” Roethlisberger said. “We just didn’t put it together. The glaring problem tonight is that we returned the ball.”

And more. And more. And the NFL’s third defense couldn’t do much to stem the tide. The Steelers led the NFL in the sacks but failed to make it to Mayfield. Cleveland’s 48 points were Pittsburgh’s biggest drop in the playoffs, surpassing Jacksonville’s 45 in the 2017 playoffs.

Pittsburgh’s troubles started on the first scrimmage game when slam center Maurkice Pouncey sailed through Roethlisberger into the end zone. Karl Joseph of Cleveland fell over for a touchdown. Roethlisberger threw three interceptions in the first period, two of which led directly to the Browns’ scores.

By the time the Steelers regained their balance, they had lost 28-0. Even when they did so on a 1-yard touchdown by James Conner with 1:44 left in the half, the Browns stormed the back. Mayfield capped a cathartic first half with a masterful 64-yard drive that ended in a 7-yard draw to Austin Hooper with 34 seconds left. Pittsburgh countered with a basket in the dying seconds but trailed 35-10 at the break.

Pittsburgh tried to recover. The Steelers shot 35-23 at the end of the third quarter. Facing a fourth and a 1 at Pittsburgh 46 in the first game of the fourth, Tomlin chose to clear.

“I wanted to pin them down and maybe provide short ground for their offense,” said Tomlin. “I just wanted to keep the momentum going in terms of positioning on the pitch.”

It did not work. The kick rebounded into the end zone for a touchdown and Mayfield calmly took Cleveland 80 yards in six games. The sideline burst as Chubb entered the end zone.

So much for the Browns being the Browns, a flashing assessment from Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster of Cleveland mid-week. Whatever the intention – Smith-Schuster said after the game he didn’t regret it – Mayfield and All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett took it to heart.

Then, in front of a nearly empty stadium and a national crowd so used to seeing them stumble, the Browns, who didn’t win a game in Garrett’s first season, vented their frustration by landing one fan after another.

“We’re the Cleveland Browns,” Garrett said with a smirk. “The same old Cleveland Browns.”

Not so much.


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