The Browns were desperate to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in their final game of the season. At stake was a playoff berth after finally getting a winning season. The Steelers are the Number 3 seed in the upcoming playoffs and rested many crucial starters. Advantage or not, Cleveland won 24-22 and clinched a playoff spot.
17 years is a very long time to wait for a roster worthy of making the playoffs. This just happened to be the year. And with a rookie head coach with no preseason games and minimal off-season.
So, who played well? Who didn’t?
The year 2020 - It was one of the most difficult years in human history. However, for Browns’ fans, it was the year that the 17-year “Wasteland Years” playoff jinx was lifted. A winning record at 11-5-0 and now playoff bound. God Bless 2020.
HC Kevin Stefanski - Five weeks ago, the Coach-of-the-Year award was whittled down to about five coaches. Going into this weekend, the front-runner was Miami Dolphins’ head coach Brian Flores in the lead having taken a 5-11-0 Dolphins club last year to a 10-5-0 record, the Number 5 seed and needing one more game to get to the post-season. Instead, Miami was trounced by division foe Buffalo 56-26 and may be the only 10-6-0 team to watch the playoffs from home. The award now should be Stefanski’s. Hard to imagine a rookie coach getting that award, but here it is. Enjoy the accolades coach.
QB Baker Mayfield - Mayfield’s feet were the MVP today with several key scrambles for critical first down. Facing a third-and-three with 8:03 to go in the game holding a 24-16 lead, Mayfield took off for four yards and a first down at Pittsburgh’s 48. HIs passing game was decent with pedestrian numbers of 17-27 for only 196 yards. But, no picks and zero fumbles. The touchdown pass to Austin Hooper was disguised nicely as everyone in the stadium and at home knew a Nick Chubb run was coming.
TE Stephen Carlson - Although Carlson is a special teams demon with zero targets and zero catches today, his recovery on the onside kick deserves praise. Thank you Stephen for stopping the “same ole Browns” mantra.
Stopping the Steelers on third downs - The defense overall played well, but one category stands out: Pittsburgh’s third down attempts. Out of 14 attempts, the Steelers only converted five with one being a third-and-goal. Good pressure was placed on whichever QB was in the game, and the coverage was pretty tight.
LB Jacob Phillips - The rookie had a very good game especially in coverage of tight end Vance McDonald who was limited to just 33-yards and zero scores. Phillips was active in tackling at the LB position. Had 10 total tackles with a tackle for loss and one QB hit.
RB Nick Chubb - Hard to imagine Chubb only getting 14 carries, but he bullied his way for 108 yards. His 47-scamper for a touchdown on the Browns opening drive was a thing of beauty. His expertise in blocking in the backfield is gold. Nice job Pro Bowler.
Third downs - The Browns were the worst on third downs going 4-10. Six of the misses was for third-and-three yards or less including a third-and-goal.
Refusing points - In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 24-16. Cleveland mounted a good 10-play drive beginning on their own 27 that used up 6:30 of clock. Facing a third-and-three at the Steelers’ 31-yard line, Mayfield was sacked by DE Stephon Tuitt after a missed Jedrick Wills block. Now facing a fourth-and-seven at the 35, instead of lining up for a 52-yard Cody Parkey field goal, Mayfield threw an incomplete pass. Yes, Parkey has had some issues this year, but lifetime he is 8-10 on kicks over 50-yards. If he makes it, the Browns hold a two-score lead. If they go for it on an improbable fourth-and-seven and don’t make the first, Pittsburgh gets the ball at the exact same spot anyway - which is what happened.
Two-minute drill end of half - Every team practices this every week: your offense has the ball and needs to drive to get some kind of points. Up 10-6, KR D’Ernest Johnson had a great return to Cleveland’s 35 with 1:12 left and timeouts in the hole. Incomplete pass to DPJ who became injured. Mayfield sacked. Facing a third-and-20 and a short run. Four total plays, minus six yards, zero points.
Milk Bones - still hung over from New Year’s Eve, but had a great time....we think
CB Terrance Mitchell - For every great play Mitchell had, he had two bad ones. Early in the fourth quarter facing a fourth-and-10, Mitchell allowed Steelers’ WR Chase Claypool to catch an uncontested ball at midfield to which Phillips then made the tackle. Eight plays later, Claypool caught the touchdown. Mitchell had tight coverage and was inside on the slightly underthrown ball. If Mitchell had turned his head to look for the ball before right as the ball arrived, the chances for an interception were greater than the actual result - which was the receiver was actually looking for the ball and made body adjustments for the catch. Had five total tackles.
Offensive line pass blocking - The strength of the offense is the running game, but today the passing aspect was front and center. RG Wyatt Teller was at this best and was sorely missed. RT Jack Conklin is the rock while C J.C. Tretter is rarely beaten. Had some issues with the leftside protection, but overall an excellent effort when this unit has all its starters in. The four sacks were done without two of Pittsburgh’s top defensive ends which is worrisome if the Browns have to play the Steelers next week. LG Joel Bitonio showed why he was selected to the Pro Bowl this year.
DE Adrian Clayborn - The veteran used his limited snaps to his advantage. Had two QB hits which were just a shade of being sacks. In the second quarter on Olivier Vernon’s sack, it was Clayborn’s pressure that forced Pittsburgh QB Mason Rudolph into Vernon and took the Steelers off the track and forced a field goal.
LT Jedrick Wills - The rookie had issues all game with containing Tuitt or linebacker Alex Highsmith. The even worse news is that the elite starting right pass rusher T.J. Watt did not even make the trip. Wills had success with run blocking and was seen on the second level taking on a linebacker. But Highsmith and Tuitt were half of the sacks allowed all game.
How far do you feel this Browns roster can go in the playoffs?
This poll is closed
Win their first one only
One and done
Super Bowl participant
Bring on the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game!