Baker Mayfield delivered on a promise he made to the Cleveland Browns when they selected him first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. He told reporters he was the guy to change the fortunes of a Browns team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2002. The 18-year drought has officially ended. With a 24-22 week 17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns have clinched a spot in the playoffs and will travel next week to Pittsburgh for a Steelers rematch in the Wild Card Round.
Mayfield Delivers on Promise, Cleveland Browns Beat Pittsburgh Steelers to Clinch Playoff Berth
After the first quarter, it seemed as though a victory might be stress-free for the Browns. But, this is Cleveland. Nothing is easy. Nothing is taken for granted. Everything is earned through grit and determination. As Mayfield slid for the game-sealing first down late in the fourth quarter, he let out a bellow that resounded throughout FirstEnergy Stadium and on the CBS broadcast. Almost two decades of agony disappeared at that moment.
Mayfield was far from perfect Sunday. He threw for only 196 yards and took a couple of brutal sacks. However, he and the Browns did just enough to win and punch their ticket to the playoffs. Mayfield made plays with his legs when needed. The best of these plays came on a 28-yard scamper in the third quarter which ultimately led to a two-yard strike to Austin Hooper to put the Browns up 17-9.
The defense, though undermanned, held its own, albeit against an offense led by Mason Rudolph. Denzel Ward was clearly missed, as Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool more or less had their way with Cleveland’s secondary. M.J. Stewart picked Rudolph off late in the game to stymie a Steelers scoring opportunity. The Browns mostly struggled to create pressure, but Myles Garrett was on and off the field, and Olivier Vernon suffered a potentially serious ankle injury which took him out.
The End of the Drought
Pittsburgh had a chance to tie the game with under two minutes left on a two-point conversion attempt, but Rudolph sailed a pass over Claypool’s head. Then, Browns’ tight end Stephen Carlson barely came up with the onside kick attempt by the Steelers as Cleveland fans held their collective breath.
All Cleveland needed to do to win the game and head to the playoffs was one measly first down. Nick Chubb (108 yards, one touchdown) carried it for eight yards on first down but was stuffed on second. This left Cleveland with a third and two, season effectively on the line. Out of the shotgun formation, Mayfield sprinted right, found a hole, and slid down for a three-yard gain, ending the Browns’ 18-year drought as the stadium erupted. It was a fitting way for Cleveland to clinch. Mayfield faced heavy media criticism for all of last season and much of 2020. In a cathartic turn of events, he rose to the spotlight in the biggest moment and delivered.
This is a brilliant feeling for the Cleveland Browns and their fans. However, after the game, head coach Kevin Stefanski appeared far from satisfied. He stressed that there is more work to be done and that the playoffs are a different ballgame entirely. In the wise words of the late, great Kobe Bean Bryant, “Job’s not finished.”