NFL Countdown #28: Snapping a league-leading 17-year playoff drought,
the Browns came out of the gates as hot as a team ever has, absolutely
dominating the Steelers to the tune of a 28-0 lead after the first quarter.
In March of 2020, Jared Leto left a silent meditation retreat in the desert to discover a world turned completely upside down. Employees at the retreat made an executive decision to not “disturb the participants” with news of the burgeoning global pandemic, leaving the man who played the worst Joker of all time (in my humble opinion) to learn about the widespread panic and growing body count brought about by COVID-19 as he made his way back into civilization. Leto likened this return to the real world to waking up in a zombie apocalypse, which is exactly how someone who didn’t watch football during the pandemic would feel seeing the Cleveland Browns on everyone’s list of contenders for the AFC Championship in 2021.
Baker Mayfield has seemingly put an end to the curse on the city of Cleveland that has given us so many great memes and jerseys listing all of the failed quarterbacks before him. The first overall pick of the 2018 draft started his NFL career under Hue Jackson (3-36-1 as a head coach lol), working with three different head coaches and learning a new offensive scheme every offseason leading up to 2020. The Browns fired Freddie Kitchens after their 6-10 season in 2019, turning to Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to take the wheel and steer this franchise in the right direction. Fans in Cleveland watched with cautious optimism, praying that Stefanski would be the guy to take advantage of the window of opportunity opened by their recent roster overhaul.
The 2020 season started just like any other for Browns fans, with a blowout loss. Falling 38-6 to the red-hot Ravens, fans in Cleveland took solace in knowing there would be growing pains as their team transitioned to the hard-nosed offense brought in by Stefanski. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt both averaged over 5.5 yards per carry in the opener, putting the league on notice to the thunder and lightning that would eventually slice through defenses in literal storms of thunder and lightning.
The Browns went through one hell of a stretch of bad weather games, with Chubb and Hunt slogging through wind, rain, and snow to emerge 2-1 from weeks 8 to 11. When the clouds finally parted above FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns stood tall as the first respectable team some Cleveland fans had seen in their lifetimes. The Browns ended up clinching the playoffs thanks to a 24-22 win over the Steelers in week 17, only to face their division rival again the following week in the Wild Card Round. Hopes were high that Baker Mayfield and company would be able to go toe-to-toe with Pittsburgh in their first playoff game in 17 years. Baker probably woke up that morning feeling dangerous, but I don’t think he even anticipated the scale of the beatdown they put on the Steelers out of the gate.
In the very first offensive play, an errant snap by Maurkice Pouncey led to a scoop and score touchdown that put the Browns up 7-0 with just 14 seconds off the clock. The Browns were in the driver’s seat and had no intention of letting off the gas. They had their way with the Pittsburgh front seven, generating chunk play after chunk play as the Steelers struggled to move the ball in the opposite direction. At the end of the first quarter, the Browns led 28-0 and had tied an NFL record for most first quarter points in a playoff game. The Steelers, on the other hand, had two turnovers, a 3-and-out punt, and just 45 yards of offense over the course of those historic fifteen minutes. The Steelers eventually woke up and fought valiantly by outscoring Cleveland throughout the rest of the game, but fell 48-37 under the weight of the Browns’ monstrous first quarter.
After decades of being the laughingstock of the NFL, Browns fans took the paper bags off their heads and rejoiced as they were alive to witness their team beat the breaks off a division rival in the playoffs. Those who remained faithful after watching their team get dog walked every single year were rewarded with 15 minutes of ecstasy and a smile that would not fade until their team was knocked out of the playoffs the following week by the Chiefs. I could not be happier for the Browns fans who sat through the Johnny Manziel and Hue Jackson years, and can now confidently say their team is good at playing football. Go check on your uncle who proudly stopped watching the NFL after Colin Kaepernick made things “political”. Tell him the Browns have a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl this year, and watch his head spin as his world is turned upside down like Jared Leto’s when he rejoined the rest of civilization amid a global pandemic.