Browns beat Steelers, end NFL's longest playoff drought

The Cleveland Browns held off the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2002

After Hours With Amy Lawrence
January 04, 2021 - 9:28 am
Baker Mayfield Browns

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The longest playoff drought in the NFL ended Sunday, as the Cleveland Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-22, to finish 11-5 and clinch the 6-seed in the AFC.

It was a moment of happiness. It was a moment of terror.

“Those final few minutes couldn’t tick off the clock fast enough for Browns fans,” Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan Browns reporter Daryl Ruiter said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “It was an agonizing few minutes until Baker Mayfield converted that 3rd-and-2 with a three-yard run.”

Indeed, the Browns led 24-9 in the fourth quarter, but Mason Rudolph threw a pair of touchdowns to Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster to pull Pittsburgh within 24-22. The Steelers (12-4), however, failed to convert a two-point conversion, and the Browns bled out the clock.

“It wasn’t easy – and it never is when it comes to the Cleveland Browns – but the bottom line is they’re in the playoffs,” Ruiter said. “[The] Cleveland Browns and [the] NFL playoffs in the same sentence – for a lot of fans in Cleveland, [it’s] something that they, quite frankly, never thought that they would hear.”

The Browns last made the playoffs in 2002 and last finished with a winning record in 2007. Not a bad first year for head coach Kevin Stefanski, who guided the Browns to their best season since 1994.

“Two words: organization and leadership,” said Ruiter, who believes Stefanski should win Coach of the Year. “[Those are] two things that have desperately been lacking in Cleveland – and certainly they lacked in 2019. When you talk to players on this team, they sound like Kevin Stefanski. Very rarely are they going to give you something that you would classify as bulletin-board material. His message in the locker room after the game [was], ‘We’re not satisfied. This is not the goal. Getting to the playoffs is not the goal. There’s more work that we have to do. This is just a step forward for this team.’ Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett, the leadership of this team – actually, the whole of the team – have bought in to what Stefanski preached.”

The Browns play the Steelers in the Wild Card this Sunday at 8:15 p.m. ET. Cleveland has lost 17 straight games in Pittsburgh.