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The Browns are back: Cleveland stuns Steelers 48-37 in the playoffs, advance to face the Chiefs next Sunday

The Browns are one step closer to...the Super Bowl.

Wild Card Round - Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The stunner of the first round of the NFL Playoffs? Your CLEVELAND BROWNS. The Browns jumped out to a 28-0 first quarter lead, and although it got tense in the second half, Cleveland stuck the dagger in Pittsburgh when LB Sione Takitaki picked off QB Ben Roethlisberger in the final minutes of the game! The Browns won 48-37, and advance to the face the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday in the Divisional Round. Let’s get to the recap of the game.

1st Quarter

The Browns won the coin toss and deferred. And holy shit, on the first play of the game, C Maurkice Pouncey launched the ball over the head of QB Ben Roethlisberger and to the end zone, where a swarm of Cleveland defenders jumped on it for the touchdown! (S Karl Joseph officially got the score). K Cody Parkey made the extra point to put Cleveland on top 7-0.

On Pittsburgh’s second series, they got the ball close to midfield. On a 1st-and-10 play, QB Ben Roethlisberger dropped back and faced a bull rush from Cleveland’s defense. Roethlisberger tried to bail himself out by floating a dumpoff pass to RB Benny Snell, but it was too high and CB M.J. Stewart snagged it for an interception! The Browns would take over at the Pittsburgh 46 yard line for their first offensive series of the game.

How did the drive go? Incomplete pass, 6 yard pass to TE Austin Hooper, and then on 3rd-and-4, a 40-yard catch-and-run touchdown for WR Jarvis Landry! Incredibly, the Browns were up 14-0 five minutes into the game.

On the Steelers’ next drive, they faced a 3rd-and-1 right away. A handoff to FB Derek Watt succeeded on the previous series, but they tried it again and DT Larry Ogunjobi blew the play up by pushing Pouncey into the backfield, and S Ronnie Harrison finished Watt off for no gain to force a punt. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones returned the punt 8 yards, giving Cleveland possession at the 27 yard line.

Chubb began the next drive with back-to-back runs of 17 and 20 yards, finding big holes on both attempts. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-5, QB Baker Mayfield found a sliding WR Rashard Higgins for 12 yards and a first down to the 11 yard line. Mayfield handed off to RB Kareem Hunt, who found a seam, bulldozed through a defender, and then was pushed into the end zone for a touchdown! Parkey’s extra point gave Cleveland a stunning 21-0 lead with 4:40 remaining in the first quarter.

I can’t believe what I’m typing — on the Steelers’ next possession, after a holding call on Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger had a high pass go off a receiver’s hands and was picked off by FS Sheldrick Redwine! Redwine returned the interception 30 yards to the 15 yard line.

Three plays later, on 3rd-and-3, Hunt got the handoff, sprinted to the left edge, and then turned upfield to find an open seam to the end zone! The Browns led 28-0 with 1:56 to go in the first quarter.

Pittsburgh faced a 3rd-and-10 near the end of the first quarter, but TE Eric Ebron was able to get a catch-and-run for the first down.

2nd Quarter

Roethlisberger moved the chains again on third down with a short pass to Ebron. Pittsburgh got a few more completions to get past midfield for the first time in the game, but then on second and third down from the 38 yard line, Roethlisberger’s passes were well off target. On 4th-and-9, Mike Tomlin sent in the punt unit, giving the Browns the ball back at the 10 yard line with 12:19 to go in the second quarter.

For the first time all game, the Browns found a lack of success on offense. Chubb was stopped for no gain on first down, and then Mayfield’s next two passes for Higgins fell incomplete. P Jamie Gillan punted the ball 44 yards and just past midfield, where Pittsburgh would begin their next possession.

On 3rd-and-2 of the Steelers’ next drive, the Browns showed pressure but then backed out of it. Roethlisberger went to throw, but DT Vincent Taylor batted the ball into the air and DE Porter Gustin made a diving interception! Cleveland took over at their own 47 yard line.

The Browns’ next offensive drive started well with a 12-yard run by Chubb. Then, it went a bit south: an injury that forced RT Jack Conklin to the locker room, a holding call by his replacement (OT Kendall Lamm), and a dropped pass by TE Austin Hooper. On 4th-and-8 from the 39 yard line, Gillan came out again to punt the ball, pinning Pittsburgh back at the 11 yard line.

Roethlisberger finally got the Steelers’ offense moving with passes of 17, 10, and 27 yards to WR James Washington. An incomplete pass on 3rd-and-1 from the 2 yard line led to the two-minute warning, with Pittsburgh obviously set to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the 2 yard line. Out of the two-minute warning, the snap was low, but Roethlisberger picked it up off he ground and got the handoff to RB James Conner. Cleveland had Conner hit shy of the marker, but he kept his legs grinding to just barely move the chains. One play later, he punched it in for a touchdown with 1:44 to go in the half.

RB D’Ernest Johnson took the kickoff out to the 33 yard line. The drive started with a 4-yard run by Chubb, and Pittsburgh took their first timeout. Mayfield’s second down pass went off the hands of Higgins for an incompletion. On 3rd-and-6, Mayfield scrambled and dove to the sideline for 6 yards and a first down.

Mayfield found Chubb wide open in the flat for a 21-yard catch-and-run. An 8 yard pass to Hunt was followed by a 12-yard run by Hunt, setting Cleveland up with a 1st-and-10 from the 12 yard line. Mayfield hit Hooper for 5 yards, and then the Browns took their final timeout with 0:37 to go. On 2nd-and-5 from the 7, Mayfield found Hooper uncovered for a touchdown! The extra point gave the Browns a 35-7 lead with 0:34 to go in the half.

Pittsburgh moved the ball to the Browns’ 46 yard line with 0:10 left after burning their final timeout. A completion to WR Chase Claypool allowed K Chris Boswell to come on for a 49-yard field goal at the end of the half, making it a 35-10 game.

3rd Quarter

The Browns got the ball to begin the second half and were able to move the ball to midfield with a couple of first down conversions. Cleveland’s receivers had an illegal formation on one play, which made it 2nd-and-15 and basically ended up stalling the drive. Gillan punted the ball, and the Steelers began their first drive of the second half from the 16 yard line.

Pittsburgh passed the ball non-stop, with Roethlisberger getting into a rhythm and the Browns’ defensive backs playing pretty conservative. Taking 3:45 off the clock, Roethlisberger found Ebron for a 17-yard touchdown pass to make it a 35-16 game. The Steelers went for two points, but Roethlisberger’s pass was incomplete on the attempt, keeping it a 19-point game with 7:22 remaining in the third quarter.

Cleveland’s response on offense wasn’t ideal, as they went three-and-out and only took one minute off the clock after Mayfield’s third down pass to Landry was incomplete. The Browns tried to run a bootleg with Mayfield on first down of that drive — something I’ve been against running vs. Pittsburgh, and Mayfield’s pass was incomplete as he faced immediate pressure.

After Gillan’s punt, the Steelers began their next drive at the 32 yard line. CB Terrance Mitchell had a shot early in the drive at an interception, but didn’t come up with it. After that, Roethlisberger continued to find his groove in the passing game, moving the ball into a goal-to-go situation like clockwork. After two incompletions, though, it was 3rd-and-goal from the 5 yard line. Roethlisberger went for Ebron, but the pass was incomplete. On 4th-and-goal, Tomlin decided to go for it. Roethlisberger threaded the needle to WR JuJu Smith-Schuster to the left side, making it a 35-23 game, cutting Cleveland’s lead to 12 points with 2:57 remaining in the third quarter.

Like a bad nightmare, Cleveland went three-and-out again, as Mayfield was almost intercepted on third down when Peoples-Jones slipped on a route. The Steelers got the ball back with 1:30 to go in the quarter at the 37 yard line.

Pittsburgh completed a pass to Smuth-Schuster on the final play of the quarter, to set up 4th-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 46 yard line.

4th Quarter

On 4th-and-1, and the Steelers lined up to punt. They tried to draw the Browns offsides, but Cleveland stayed patient and didn’t jump. The Steelers took the delay of game and punted into the end zone for a touchback. Thank you, Mike. Freaking. Tomlin.

On 3rd-and-2, Cleveland was fortunate to not get called for a delay of game. Mayfield faced pressure, but stayed in the pocket and found Landry come free on the crossing route for a catch-and-run of 17 yards.

That was followed by another 15-yard hookup with Landry. Now at the Steelers’ 40 yard line, Chubb was hit for no gain. On 2nd-and-10, that’s when Cleveland called the play we’ve been waiting three games for against this team: draw the blitz, and then toss the screen pass to Chubb.


Chubb broke tackles and then saw nothing but green in front of him, sprinting 40 yards for a touchdown to extend the Browns’ lead to 42-23 with 12:32 left in the game!

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh only needed 1:24 to drive 74 yards on 4 plays. Before you could even blink, Roethlisberger hit Claypool for a 29-yard touchdown pass to make it a 42-29 game. The Steelers went for two, but Stewart knocked the ball away, making it a 13-point lead for Cleveland.

Johnson’s kickoff was returned to the 35 yard line, and Cleveland began their next series with 11:08 left in the game. Chubb began the drive with a big 9-yard run, and the grinded a 1-yard run to move the chains. On second down, Mayfield swung the ball to Hunt laterally for a 13-yard gain. But then, Dunn came up limping and went to the sideline, and was replaced by some guy named Blake Hance who I’ve never heard of?

Mayfield zipped a pass over the middle to Landry for 17 yards, and he ALMOST fumbled it at the end of the play, but somehow held on. Mayfield completed passes of 7 yards to Nkoku, and then 8 yards to Hooper, to set up 1st-and-goal from the 9 yard line. On 1st-and-goal, Hunt ran for 3 yards. On 2nd-and-goal from the 6 yard line, Hunt ran for no gain. On 3rd-and-goal, Mayfield risked a pass to the outside. The safety tried to undercut it, flashing in front of Hooper, but missed it. However, it distracted Hooper enough to where the ball bounced off of him for an incompletion.

That still left Pittsburgh some slim life, because Cleveland had to settle for a 24-yard field goal from Parkey. He connected on it to make it a 45-29 game with 4:28 remaining in the game.

With Pittsburgh trying to mount one more rally, it was thwarted when LB Sione Takitaki INTERCEPTED Roethlisberger!

After the pick, the Browns went three-and-out, but forced Pittsburgh to burn two timeouts, and then Parkey kicked the game-sealing 37-yard field goal to go up 48-29.

Roethlisberger got a 33-yard pass to Smith-Schuster on 4th-and-10 to extend the game. Then, with 1:09 left, Roethlisberger found Claypool for a 7-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion went to Conner to make the score 48-37. Pittsburgh went for the onside kick, but TE Stephen Carlson recovered it.


Up Next

Next Sunday, January 17th, the Browns will travel to Kansas City to battle the Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The game will kick off at 3:05 PM on CBS.

Quick Hitter Stats

  • QB Baker Mayfield: 21-of-34 for 263 yards, 3 TD.
  • RB Nick Chubb: 18 carries, 76 yards. 4 catches, 69 yards, 1 TD.
  • RB Kareem Hunt: 8 carries, 48 yards, 2 TD. 1 catch, 13 yards.
  • WR Jarvis Landry: 5 catches, 92 yards, 1 TD.
  • TE Austin Hooper: 7 catches, 46 yards, 1 TD.
  • 4 turnovers forced by the defense in the first half.

Quick Hitter Notes

  • What a stunning first half by the Cleveland Browns. It was reminiscent of the Browns’ onslaught over the Titans earlier this season. The issues with Pittsburgh’s offense started early — on the first play, in fact, when Pouncey sailed the snap to the end zone for a touchdown. Then, Roethlisberger was high on his throws like he’s been, leading to interceptions.
  • A funny stat line: in the first half, the Steelers led the time of possession 19:40 to 10:20. Obviously, we know the reason why: all of those big turnovers and short fields.
  • The Steelers owned the third quarter, much like what we’ve seen happen when Cleveland had big leads this season over Dallas and Tennessee. In the fourth quarter, the big decision that Tomlin messed up on was punting on 4th-and-1. I couldn’t believe it. Cleveland responded with a touchdown drive to take the momentum back.


How would you grade the Browns’ offense vs. the Steelers?

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How would you grade the Browns’ defense vs. the Steelers?

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