Well, Browns fans, it’s been a long and strenuous 18 years, (and even longer week) but here we are. Your Cleveland Browns have done it; they made the playoffs. The excitement in the city is buzzing as it gets ready for playoff football and in this wild card game, the Browns travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers again.
Last Sunday, the Browns sealed their trip to the playoffs with a win against the Steelers, 24-22. The Steelers sat a few starters, including QB Ben Roethlisberger, C Maurkice Pouncey, OLB T.J. Watt and DE Cam Heyward, in efforts to rest them for the playoffs after clinching the AFC North Division title the week prior. The big narrative leading up to the game was the rematch between DE Myles Garrett versus backup QB Mason Rudolph, yet nothing came out of it. The Browns struck first with an explosive 47-yard TD yard courtesy of RB Nick Chubb, breaking him past 1000 yards on the season. Chubb was somewhat absent during the rest of the game, seemingly because HC Kevin Stefanski wanted to rest him as much as possible and not give away too much Chubb on film heading into the playoffs. A risky move considering the Browns still needed to win to get in. Nonetheless, Chubb finished with 108 yards on the day.
Rudolph was bottled up in the first half by the Browns defense, but with CB Ward and S Sendejo out with COVID, the secondary was obviously weak and Rudolph was able to finish 22/39, throwing for 315 yards and a TD to WR Chase Claypool on a 4th & 10. However, a bright spot for the secondary was when CB M.J. Stewart picked off Rudolph that led to a three-yard TD reverse run by WR Jarvis Landry.
A few heart-stopping moments happened in the 4th quarter.
Rudolph threw a short TD pass to WR Juju Smith-Schuster to make the score 24-22 Browns on top. The Steelers went for two and failed, then an onside kick was bobbled by TE Stephen Carlson, but hastily scooped up by him. QB Baker Mayfield had a commendable day finishing 17/27, 196 yards and a TD throw to TE Austin Hooper. He also put his legs to work which was a key to sealing the victory, scrambling for 44 yards and had the most important rushing yard for the Browns in recent history, sweeping right on a 3rd and one and gaining a first down to send the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs.
The Browns are facing the Steelers once again in the playoffs and while it should be great news, COVID decided to put a damper on things. Tuesday, it was announced that Kevin Stefanski and Pro-Bowl G Joel Bitonio tested positive for COVID and it seemed the world fell apart for Browns fans. Stefanski turned around the culture of this organization and developed Baker Mayfield successfully and, not to mention, led the Browns to their first playoff berth in 18 years. Also, Bitonio has been the longest-tenured Brown on the team and was here through the bad years of 1-31. Not be able to play in this playoff game is heartbreaking.
The Browns also lost S Ronnie Harrison due to COVID and in an already-depleted secondary that is a huge blow, but Sendejo has been cleared to play and it is hopeful Ward will be cleared to play before the game Sunday night. Nonetheless, the Browns are entering this game with a cool head and the next man up mentality, and after Juju’s “same old Browns” answer during a zoom call with Pittsburgh’s press, the Browns will be fired up just like the fans, who are sick and tired of that played out narrative and want to show the nation that Cleveland has arrived.
Yes, the COVID news from this week has sucked, but be optimistic Browns fans. We are still in the playoffs and we are still going to take it to the Pittsburgh Steelers. 18 long years since the last time they played in a playoff game, which coincidentally was against the Steelers as well. My message to all the Browns fans out there is to be prepared to watch an instant classic because the Browns have nothing to lose in this game. Be sure to tune into the Wild Card game this Sunday night, 8:15 p.m., as your Cleveland Browns face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field!