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Brownies & Frownies: Browns steamroll the Steelers in playoff opener

Cleveland exorcised several demons in convincing road win over Pittsburgh.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns exorcised several demons in Sunday night’s Wild Card win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The dominant 48-37 victory was the Browns:

  • First win at Heinz Field since October 5, 2003
  • First playoff win ever against the Steelers
  • First playoff win since January 1, 1995
  • First road playoff win since December 28, 1969

The Browns pulled it off without head coach Kevin Stefanski, several assistant coaches, left guard Joel Bitonio, defensive end Olivier Vernon and cornerback Denzel Ward. They also lost right tackle Jack Conklin and left guard Michael Dunn during the game to injuries.

None of it mattered, however, during an improbable, unbelievable, and joyous victory over a team that has tormented the Browns for decades.

The win sets up a Divisional Round playoff matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs next weekend at Arrowhead Stadium.

Before we get there, however, let’s take a look back at Sunday night’s win and pass out some Brownies and Frownies.

Brownies

The duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt: This has probably become somewhat repetitive by now, but the play of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt offers a weekly reminder that running backs do matter - at least to the Browns.

Chubb and Hunt combined for 206 yards of offense and three touchdowns against the Steelers, with Chubb taking a short pass 40 yards for a score and Hunt adding a pair of touchdowns on the ground.

Facing a Chiefs defense next week that struggles to stop the run, Sunday night might have just been a preview of what Chubb and Hunt can do.

Jarvis Landry’s big catch: After the Browns took a quick 7-0 lead on the first offensive play of the day, it would not have been unexpected to see the Steelers settle down, march down the field for a touchdown, and take back control of the game.

But an interception set the Browns up at Pittsburgh’s 46-yard line, and three plays later quarterback Baker Mayfield hit wide receiver Jarvis Landry with a 10-yard pass that Landry turned into a 40-yard touchdown to stake the Browns to a 14-0.

Landry led the Browns with five receptions for 92 yards, but it was the touchdown reception that helped settle the nerves of the Browns and is the kind of play that Landry continually makes and establishes him as a team leader.

The offensive line: The Browns came into the game knowing they would have to play without veteran left guard Joel Bitonio, with Michael Dunn taking over in his first NFL start.

But then right tackle Jack Conklin went down with a hamstring injury in the second quarter. Then Dunn went out with a calf injury in the fourth quarter forcing Blake Hance, who joined the team from the practice squad of the New York Jets just last week, into the game, and things were looking rough.

But the offensive line held up its end of the bargain, keeping Mayfield clean and imposing its will against a Pittsburgh defense that came into the game with a sack in 73 consecutive games.

It is not always sexy, but last night proved how valuable having the league’s best offensive line can be.

An opportunistic defense: All season long the Browns have had one goal in mind when it comes to playing defense.

Keep the opposing wide receivers in front of you and make the tackle, snag a few timely turnovers, harass the quarterback, and if all else fails just hold on until the final whistle.

While the Browns were not able to sack Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, they did force him into four interceptions, scored a touchdown on a turnover on Pittsburgh’s first offensive play of the game, and held the Steelers to just 52 rushing yards on 16 carries.

Baker Mayfield, QB1: In his playoff debut, Baker Mayfield was everything a team could want from its quarterback.

Mayfield finished 21-of-34 for 263 yards, three touchdown passes, a quarterback rating of 115.2 (the Browns are now a perfect 8-0 this season when Mayfield surpasses a QB rating of 100), was not sacked and did not turn the ball over. The game continued Mayfield’s hot streak, which has seen him throw 19 touchdown passes against just two interceptions starting in Week 7.

It was yet another performance by Mayfield that shut down the tiresome narrative that he is nothing more than a “game manager” who can only get in the way of Cleveland winning.

The team’s mental toughness: The Browns had every reason to go out and lose this game.

They had not beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh since 2003, they had only beaten quarterback Ben Roethlisberger twice since he entered the league in 2004, they had not won a playoff game since 1995, their head coach was home watching the game on TV and they had barely practiced the week leading up to the game because of COVID-19.

But rather than give in and do what many expected, the Browns continued to do what they have done all season. They rallied together, took it to the Steelers, and showed any remaining doubters that these are no longer the “same old Browns.”

This Browns team is simply different than any we’ve seen in decades. It is not just the level of talent on the roster, but the mental toughness to not give in when things don't go their way, but rather figure out a way to get it done.

Frownies

Sorry, but the Browns just beat the Steelers, on the road, in the playoffs, and made them look bad in the process.

The Frownies are on the inactive list this week as it is on to Kansas City to face the Chiefs!