| USA TODAY
PITTSBURGH — Shock, surprise. The Cleveland Browns safe obtained a playoff game for the first time in 26 years.
By no arrangement mind the 17-game shedding walk in Pittsburgh or the COVID-19 challenges that kept them off the prepare field all week.
The Browns tremulous the Steelers within the finest upset of “Gigantic Wild Card Weekend,” 48-37, to come to an AFC divisional matchup at Kansas City next Sunday.
Cleveland (12-5) stormed to a 28-0 first-quarter lead, then held off a mad Pittsburgh comeback strive that had the lead trimmed to 12 aspects on the originate of the fourth quarter. The Pittsburgh rally didn’t closing. Gash Chubb took a show tear from Baker Mayfield early within the fourth quarter and grew to change into it actual into a 40-yard touchdown.
The closing result establish the Steelers (12-5) out of the misery of a season that at one point gave the influence so promising — they were the NFL’s closing unbeaten staff at 11-0 — prior to skidding off the rails at some stage within the last six weeks.
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Cleveland, within the playoffs for the first time since 2002, had no longer obtained in postseason since Jan. 1, 1995, when it used to be coached by Bill Belichick and obtained a 1994 wild-card game towards the Fresh England Patriots.
On Sunday evening, the Browns didn’t even safe their coach, Kevin Stefanski, on the sideline, and restful obtained at an empty Heinz Self-discipline. Stefanski used to be encourage in Cleveland, quarantined after testing particular for COVID-19, leaving particular teams coordinator Mike Priefer to support as period in-between coach and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt to call the performs. The Browns were additionally with out two starters in their secondary, Denzel Ward and Andrew Sendejo, nickel encourage Kevin Johnson and initiating left guard Joel Bitonio, all idle whereas on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Countering all that the Browns did no longer safe, right here’s what they had for a a hit formula:
— A fast, early lead supplied by a Steelers gaffe. Center Maurkice Pouncey’s wild shotgun snap on the sport’s first offensive play used to be kicked into the tip zone and recovered by Karl Joseph for a Cleveland touchdown.
— Four interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger, who till Sunday evening had never lost to the Browns at Heinz Self-discipline (13-0) and used to be 24-2-1 towards the AFC North foe. The first beget led to a 40-yard, Baker Mayfield-to-Jarvis Landry touchdown that made it 14-0, roughly 5 minutes into the competition. The 2d beget led to the 2d of Kareem Hunt’s two first-quarter TD runs, extending the lead to 28-0.
— They answered the Steelers over an once once more. Uninteresting within the first half, Cleveland replied to Pittsburgh’s first TD with its own TD march. Within the fourth quarter, Cleveland regained momentum with Chubb’s TD reception after the Steelers produced two 2d-half TD drives.
Three other things we learned from the gargantuan upset at Heinz Self-discipline:
— JuJu Smith-Schuster realized one more arrangement to make a fool of himself. The Steelers receiver ate crow after brushing apart the Browns as minute extra than a nuisance at some stage in a media session closing week. Here’s what he said: “I believe they’re restful the identical Browns that I’ve performed each and every 300 and sixty five days. I think they’re nameless gray faces. They’ve about a staunch avid gamers on their staff. But on the tip of the day … the Browns is the Browns. I’m staunch happy we’re playing them once more.” So worthy for respecting your opponent. You’d think that Smith-Schuster would safe learned something about respect after his silly pre-game dance ritual drew such rebuke and embarrassment that he declared in leisurely-December that he would scrap the routine. It didn’t rep lengthy for him to search out one more maintain of ignorance.
— No, Robert Spillane wasn’t the answer for Pittsburgh’s sick high-tail protection. The within linebacker missed the closing four unparalleled games with a knee harm, all whereby time the Steelers allowed an practical of 144 speeding yards per game — 33 yards larger than their season practical. Pittsburgh’s No. 3 protection accomplished the unparalleled season ranked 11th towards the high-tail, the first time all season that it didn’t detrimental within the tip 10. There used to be hope, on the opposite hand, with Spillane’s return. As a replace, Spillane used to be high-tail over by Kareem Hunt on an 11-yard TD high-tail — with Hunt driving Spillane the closing four yards into the tip zone after they collided within the open field. It used to be rarely all on Spillane as the Steelers protection most steadily appeared leisurely, leisurely and disinterested in tackling as Cleveland rushed for 132 yards, averaging 4.7 a pop.
— The Browns are no longer the Colts… or the “outdated” Browns. The most attention-grabbing Steelers victory within the six weeks since the uh, supreme yarn used to be extinguished, came in Week 16 when they overcame a 24-7 deficit within the third quarter towards Indianapolis to claim a 28-24 resolution. Well, that used to be then. Which brings us around to the finest comeback victory in Steelers playoff history. That came with the 2002 Wild Card matchup towards…the Browns. Pittsburgh rallied from a 24-7 third-quarter deficit in that one, too, a hit 36-33 in time beyond legislation. That, too, used to be then. On Sunday evening, Cleveland used to be rarely keen to stop the early and gargantuan relief it in-constructed the first half. After Pittsburgh scale again into Cleveland’s 28-0 lead with a formidable, 13-play, 89-yard TD pressure capped by a 1-yard James Conner tumble leisurely within the 2d quarter, the Browns swiftly answered with a 9-play, 64-yard pressure accomplished with Baker Mayfield’s 7-yard TD throw to Austin Hooper. With a potent speeding game, Cleveland used to be wisely-geared up to halt the wretchedness of blowing a gargantuan lead.
With 1: 09 left, the Steelers scored a TD and two-point conversion to drag within 11.
Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards.