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Browns had a chance, but the season ends as Cleveland loses 22-17 to Chiefs in a tight finish

Cleveland had a glimmer of hope to make the AFC Championship after Patrick Mahomes left the game with a concussion, but Chad Henne did enough on the final drive to seal the game.

Divisional Round - Cleveland Browns v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It was a fun ride, but the Cleveland Browns’ season is over, as they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs by a final score of 22-17. The Browns’ first half was full of mistakes, but in the second half, they had some hope, especially after Patrick Mahomes exited with a concussion. Kevin Stefanski had a tough decision with four minutes to go, and ended up punting the ball. Cleveland never got it back. Let’s get to the recap of the game.

1st Quarter

For the second playoff game in a row, the Browns won the toss and deferred. This time, they didn’t get a touchdown on the first play of the game; in fact, they allowed the high-powered Chiefs offense to march down the field for an opening-drive touchdown. Cleveland’s best chance at coming up with a stop on the drive was in the red zone, but LB Sione Takitaki missed a tackle on a dumpoff pass. On 2nd-and-goal from the 1 yard line, QB Patrick Mahomes took it in himself for the score. K Harrison Buckner missed the extra point to the left, making it a 6-0 game.

After the first play of the Browns’ drive, LT Jedrick Wills went down with an injury. A 27-yard screen pass to TE David Njoku on the next play moved the ball past midfield. Later in the drive, QB Baker Mayfield picked up two first downs on third down — one through the air on a catch-and-run by TE Austin Hooper, and another with his legs on a quarterback sweep.

Once they got to the 20, two negative plays set them back — a pitch to WR Jarvis Landry went for a loss of 3 yards, and then Mayfield was sacked for a loss of 8 yards on the next play. On fourth down, Cleveland brought in K Cody Parkey for a 46-yard field goal, which he drilled to cut the Chiefs’ lead to 6-3 with 2:41 left in the opening quarter.

On the Chiefs’ next offensive drive, Cleveland finally got an incompletion on first down — but then right away on second down, a flip pass to WR Mecole Hardman went for 42 yards around the edge — the same type of play that went for a loss of three to Landry on their drive. The Chiefs set up a 1st-and-10 from the 11 yard line heading to the second quarter of play.

2nd Quarter

Even the small breaks couldn’t help Cleveland stop Mahomes. He bobbled a snap on first down, leading to only a 1 yard gain. Then, a holding penalty on C Austin Reiter set up 2nd-and-19 at the 20 yard line. It didn’t matter — Mahomes dropped back, and TE Travis Kelce got CB Denzel Ward stumbling out of his shoes with a fake to the outside and cut back inside, as the catch-and-run went for a touchdown. Buckner made the extra point this time, putting the Chiefs up 13-3 with 13:48 remaining in the second quarter.

On Cleveland’s second drive, Mayfield got a 23-yard pass near the boundary to WR Donovan Peoples-Jones. After that, some negativity kicked in. Mayfield ripped a nice 17-yard pass to Landry, but it came back off of a holding penalty on RG Wyatt Teller. Then, Chubb dropped back-to-back passes, including a screen pass that appeared to have a lot of daylight in front of him. On third down, Mayfield’s pass was tipped back to himself and he caught it for a loss of 8 yards, leading to a punt.

The Chiefs began their next drive from the 15 yard line. After a couple more first downs, they ended up facing a 2nd-and-23. A 15-yard completion got it to 3rd-and-8, but Mahomes kept it himself for a 13-yard run and a first down. The defense then forced two incompletions to set up a 3rd-and-10 at the 23 yard line. DE Adrian Clayborn got a big hit on a running back screen for a loss of 5 yards. That forced the Chiefs to try a 50-yard field goal, but with the wind in his favor, Buckner drilled it to give the Chiefs a 16-3 lead.

With 3:09 left in the half, Cleveland’s blueprint to try getting back in the game was clear: score to end the half, and get the ball to begin the third quarter and score again. Did they execute?

The Browns had another 10-yard penalty — this time offensive pass interference on Peoples-Jones — push them back to a 2nd-and-20. But heading into the two-minute warning, Mayfield found Njoku streaking down the seam for a 26-yard catch to get near midfield.

A few plays later, Mayfield zipped a pass to WR Rashard Higgins to the right side for a gain of 23 yards. And then...the “only in Cleveland” play struck. Mayfield stood in the pocket, and again delivered a strike to Higgins up the right sideline. Higgins caught it, then turned and ran toward the pylon with a defender coming at him. Higgins dove for the pylon, and the defender blasted him — and then the football came out about an inch away from the end zone, and then went through the end zone for a touchback. Kansas City ball. Making matters worse, it was helmet-to-helmet on the hit.

The Chiefs got in range for one more field goal attempt before the end of the half, which Buckner made from 28 yards out to give the Chiefs a 19-3 lead at the half.

3rd Quarter

Cleveland received the ball to begin the second half. It didn’t go well either. Cleveland came out throwing the ball on their first three attempts — two straight incompletions, and then on third down, Mayfield tried to make something happen. Landry was planted just beyond the first down marker, but sat their too long, allowing S Tyrann Mathieu to undercut the pass for an interception.

Defensively, on a 3rd-and-6, DE Myles Garrett got a hit on Mahomes to help force an incompletion. Nonetheless, Buckner came on for a 33-yard field goal attempt to give Kansas City a three-score lead...and he missed it off the upright.

LT Kendall Lamm left with an injury, and on the first play of the next series, Chubb carried the ball for 23 yards, and then followed by an 18 yard run. Mayfield ripped an 18-yard pass to Higgins to get the ball to the 16 yard line. A carry by RB Kareem Hunt for 9 yards made it 2nd-and-1 at the 7 yard line. Two plays later, a quarterback sneak by Mayfield made it 1st-and-goal from the 4 yard line. He playaction faked and then ripped a pass to Landry at the front pylon for a touchdown. Kevin Stefanski opted to kick the extra point, keeping it a 19-10 game with 9:29 remaining in the third quarter.

On the Chiefs’ next series, Mahomes looked dizzy after failing to convert a 3rd-and-short on a quarterback sweep. Backup QB Chad Henne had to come in, and on 4th-and-inches from midfield, he pitched the ball to the running back, who got around the edge for a first down and more.

Henne continued handing it off, which got the Chiefs into field goal range. Henne completed a pass just shy of a first down to set up a 4th-and-1 again. This time, Andy Reid opted to try a 33-yard field goal from Bukner. This time, he made it, making it a 22-10 game with 4:24 remaining in the third quarter — but the overlying story of Mahomes possibly being out the rest of the game loomed large.

The Browns faced a big decision on their next drive, having 4th-and-1 at the start of the drive. They decided to go for it, and Chubb got the handoff for the first down. On 3rd-and-4, Mayfield found Higgins for another 17 yard gain.

4th Quarter

Still trailing 22-10, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-3 from the 33 yard line to begin the fourth quarter. Mayfield found Njoku, who got enough for a first down after the catch. Hunt picked up 10 yards on the next play to get to the 19 yard line.

A few plays later, Cleveland now faced a 4th-and-2 from the 12 yard line and had to go for it. TE Austin Hooper made a diving catch as a third option to move the chains! On 1st-and-goal from the 7 yard line, Hunt ran 4 yards to the 3 yard line. On 2nd-and-goal, the fade pass to Higgins was incomplete. On 3rd-and-goal from the 3, Hunt punched it in! Parkey kicked the extra point to make it a 22-17 game with 11:07 to go, and now Mahomes officially ruled out for the game. It was an 18-play, 75-yard drive by the Browns.

On the first play of the Chiefs’ next drive, Henne lobbed a shallow ball up for WR Tyreek Hill. Ward challenged the catch, but Hill pulled it in despite a bobble as he was going to the ground — the ball never actually touched the ground (which took a challenge and timeout away from Stefanski). Just past midfield, it was time for a big moment of the game as the Chiefs faced 3rd-and-5. Henne stood in the pocket and found Kelce for a 24-yard gain. Ugh.

An illegal crackback penalty on the Chiefs was hen called to set the Chiefs 15 yards back and a 1st-and-25 now. Henne floated a ball to the end zone, and S Karl Joseph was the only guy back there for the interception and the touchback! Holy cow. Cleveland got the ball back at the 20 yard line with exactly 8 minutes to go in the game.

Right away, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-6 again after the Chiefs stuffed Chubb on second down. On 3rd-and-6, Mayfield fired shallow to Higgins, who made a nifty move but was stopped about an inch short of a first down. On 4th-and-short, Cleveland went for it again, and the quarterback sneak moved the chains. With 5:17 to go, Mayfield took the Browns’ second timeout, as there was something he didn’t like. Cleveland still needed 69 yards to get a touchdown.

Chubb was hit for a loss on first down, and then on second down, the Chiefs covered the screen pass. On 3rd-an-11, Mayfield swung it to Hunt, who was stopped well short of a first down. Stefanski faced 4th-and-9, and with only one timeout to go, he opted to punt it. The Chiefs took over at the 28 yard line with 4:09 to go. Cleveland is banking on Henne screwing this up to get another chance.

The Chiefs faced a 3rd-and-4 with 3:21 to go. The swing pass to the running back just barely picked up the first down, and Cleveland burned their final timeout. One more first down by Kansas City would officially seal the game. On second down, Garrett sacked Henne to set up 3rd-and-14 at the two minute warning. This was it: get the stop, and Mayfield would have a chance with about 1:10 left. Allow a first down, and the season is over.

Of all things, Henne freaking scrambled and ran and dove for the first down. It looked like he got it, but the officials marked him just short, setting up 4th-and-1. They went for it. They lulled the Browns to sleep, acting like they weren’t going for it. Then, with 7 seconds left on the playclock, they snapped it and completed the quick out to Hill for the first down. Ballgame.

Up Next

It’s the offseason for the Browns.

Quick Hitter Stats

  • QB Baker Mayfield: 23-of-37 for 204 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
  • RB Nick Chubb: 13 carries, 69 yards. 2 catches, 4 yards.
  • RB Kareem Hunt: 6 carries, 32 yards, 1 TD. 1 catch, 2 yards.
  • WR Rashard Higgins: 5 catches, 88 yards, 1 fumble.
  • TE David Njoku: 4 catches, 59 yards.

Quick Hitter Notes

  • I felt it — I thought we were going to come back and pull off the upset. Sadly, it didn’t happen.
  • Obviously, Mahomes’ exit helped give the Browns a chance. But it’s also worth noting that the defense did begin the second half with some more intensity, including the hard hit dragging Mahomes to the ground.
  • What was the right move for Stefanski on 4th-and-9? Ugh, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s the same as Tomlin and Vrabel punting in last week’s game, because of the down and distance, and the fact that Henne was in the game. But I also think to myself, if you go for it there, Mayfield is going to try ripping it to someone beyond the sticks; I think you have a 50/50 chance of converting that. Given the time of the game, and the fact that allowing a field goal on defense would still give you a shot, I think he should’ve gone for it.
  • The final backbreaker is not expecting Henne to run it on that 3rd-and-14. That prevented Mayfield from having one final shot for a magical moment. Yes, they still needed the fourth down, but hey — you know Andy Reid does a great job with timely play calls, and that was one of them.


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