CLEVELAND — They. Could. Go. All. The Way.
Not to get ahead of ourselves, but the Cleveland Browns are on a roll after punching their ticket to the playoffs with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week and then getting their first playoff win in 27 long years on Sunday night over the Steelers—and it was explosive.
Many counted the Browns out before the team had even stepped foot on the field, especially after All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge tested positive for COVID-19, as did head coach Kevin Stefanski. A number of assistants also did not make the trip. On top of that, the Browns entered Sunday's road playoff game without star cornerback Denzel Ward, who was unable to be removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list in time to play Sunday.
Losing players ahead of important games is nothing new to the Browns, however, and they rose above the adversity Sunday to get a dominating win.
The Browns started off hot, with a fumble recovery for a touchdown on the first play of the opening drive, the first in a series of turnovers, with four in the first half.
M.J. Stewart, Porter Gustin and Sheldrick Redwine all picked off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first half, sending the Browns into the half with a 35-10 lead.
Things got a little too familiar for Browns fans in the third quarter as the Browns ran prevent defense, which resulted in the Steelers cutting their deficit, ending the third quarter down just 12 points.
But the Browns capitalized on coach Mike Tomlin’s odd decision to punt on 4-and-1, moving down the field and going up 41-25 after a perfectly executed screen play with Nick Chubb, who found the end zone on a 40-yard catch and run.
The Browns went on to score two field goals and got their fourth interception of the night thanks to Sione Takitaki, sealing the win and advancing Cleveland in the playoffs.
It was all so improbable. With Bitonio out, the Browns started Michael Dunn at guard, and you can be forgiven for not knowing who that was before today. When Dunn was injured, third-stringer Blake Hance came into the game.
"A guy named Blake that I introduced myself to literally in the locker room before the game, stepped up in the fourth quarter," Mayfield said.
It was that kind of game.
The world is a different place since the Browns last won a playoff game. Smartphones weren’t even a thought yet, the World Wide Web had just launched and VHS tapes were how you watched your favorite movies. Bill Belichick led the Browns back then with Vinny Testaverde under center.
Now, you’re probably reading this on your smartphone, or perhaps on your laptop connected to the internet via WiFi, about to stream your favorite movie on your smart TV after watching Mayfield lead the Browns to a win.
The world is certainly different, as are the Browns of years past.
It won’t be an easy road from here, but the Browns have already exceeded everyone’s expectations in their first season under new, improved and competent leadership.
Now that the Browns have won the Wild Card round, they’ll move on to the Divisional Playoffs, which they haven’t won since 1989, facing the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at 3:05 p.m.
It will be tough, but if there’s one thing the Browns have excelled at this season, it’s ending droughts, setting records and stomping out old, negative streaks.
Until then, enjoy the very special postseason Victory Monday, Browns fans.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.