CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The Cleveland Browns were on the hunt for the season’s biggest upset as they took on the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs in Kansas City for the AFC Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.
But when the game ended 22-17, so did the Browns historic season.
From positive COVID-19 tests taking out Head Coach Kevin Stefanski and key offensive players, to coming in as the underdog three seeds below Pittsburgh, to being called “nameless gray faces” by one of the Steelers, last week was full of hurdles for the Browns to advance to the next round.
But that didn’t stop Cleveland from making history on Heinz Field last week in their first playoff game appearance in 18 years with their first playoff victory since the 1994 season under Head Coach Bill Belichick when they beat the Patriots 20-13 in the Wild Card round.
After beating Pittsburgh on our home turf for the last week of the regular season, the 11-5 Browns faced the 12-4 Steelers for this NFL Wild Card showdown.
Those records have now changed to 12-5 and 12-5, only our season isn’t over.
No matter the odds the Browns faced, at least we had Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, G Joel Bitonio, and CBs Kevin Johnson and Denzel Ward back after being put on the COVID-19/reserve list.
Despite the mountains he already had to climb as a teammate, this was the biggest game of QB Baker Mayfield’s NFL career so far as he goes head to head with MVP QB Patrick Mahomes.
The Tailgate 19 team explained why in Sunday morning’s episode.
However, memes took over the internet calling this the insurance bowl, as both starting QBs are the face of companies: Mayfield for Progressive and Mahomes for State Farm.
Our defense also had their work cut out for them as they faced Kansas City’s dangerous receiving duo: WR Tyreek Hill and Cleveland Heights native TE Travis Kelce.
Kelce, who had five straight 1,000 yard seasons, took it to a whole new level this time, going for more than 1,400.
If that’s not enough, well, as you know, he’s a Cleveland Heights grad, and yes, seeing brown and orange motivated him even more.
“Being from Cleveland and playing the Browns, it’s definitely upped the ante a little bit,” Kelce said. “I absolutely love Cleveland, but I understand we are each other’s enemies right now. I got a lot of friends and a lot of family back in Cleveland telling me that I’m the enemy, so it’s definitely going to be fun going up against the Browns, and it’s going to be an exciting game.”
Browns DE Myles Garrett was ready to take on the challenge facing the Super Bowl champs brings.
In Friday’s press conference, he confidently said, “we’re here, we might as well be great.”
But, there may be one Cleveland Brown who wanted to face the Chiefs more...
One run last Sunday night summed it all up.
The trip to Kansas City was at stake, and the former Chief Hunt was not going to be denied.
So when he had a shot at his second touchdown of the first quarter, he literally ran over the Steelers to get it.
That’s how badly he wanted a shot at the Chiefs.
“It’s a big game,” Hunt said Thursday during a zoom meeting. “I came in with guys over there. Bragging rights. Travis (Kelce), Pat (Mahomes), we’re buddies. First time playing against some of my best friends.”
Hunt’s run as a Chief started off incredibly well in 2017, and then, obviously, ended badly.
He missed out on a Super Bowl run with the Chiefs, but, he could have still had one with his hometown team.
“That’s motivation right there,” Hunt said. “Being able to go out and work in my hometown, Cleveland Browns, in this position to have a shot this late in the season to bring a ring home, that would mean more than anything to me.”
As for the fans...
If you thought about making the 18-hour drive to Kansas City to watch the game at Arrowhead Stadium and didn’t buy tickets as soon as the clock hit 00:00 against the Steelers, you would have paid hundreds and even thousands of dollars for a seat.
Tickets in the lower bowl near the 50-yard line at the stadium in Missouri were going for $2,728 around noon on Tuesday, according to Gametime.co, a website that sells last-minute tickets.
The cheapest seats available were $848. Stubhub.com had nosebleeds for $563, but you had to buy a pack of five.
With tickets hardly available in the first place due to social distancing protocols, the Browns came up with a safer way to celebrate.
Browns alumni and mascots were at FirstEnergy Stadium on Saturday to greet fans in a drive-by rally.
For the highlights...
The Chiefs were first to get on the board by getting in the endzone on their first possession with 9:11 on the clock.
Mahomes ran it in himself from the one-yard line, but the real talker was how he chucked the ball all the way up to one of the last rows in the third deck to celebrate.
But, a missed kick kept the score 6-0.
The Browns weren’t off to a good start on their first offensive when their starting LT Jedrick Wills Jr. went down.
He limped off the field to receive medical attention.
The Browns looked like they were back in business after a short pass to TE David Njoku lead to a 27-yard gain.
But, a sack shortly after lead to a loss of eight to bring the Browns to 3 and 21 with 3:25 left in the first quarter.
Cleveland was still able to get on the board by settling for a field goal from 46 yards out.
The score jumped to 6-3 with 2:41 left in the first quarter.
Soon as the Chiefs got the ball back, they picked up 42 yards on a short pass.
Kansas City still had the ball and the lead when the first quarter ended 6-3.
Garrett caught the NFL’s attention with this chase for the tackle:
Kelce made sure he got his hometown’s attention with a 20-yard catch from Mahomes and a quick run... then dive through his own teammate... in the endzone less than two minutes into the second quarter with 13:48 left in the first half.
After getting the ball through the goalpost this time, Kansas City increased their lead 13-3.
Mahomes caused a quick stir when he went to the medical tent to be evaluated for his left big toe, but came right out.
Cleveland game back swinging with a dime throw from Mayfield to WR Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 17-yard gain.
But the drive ended up being a swing and a miss after two drops by RB Nick Chubb, a batted pass, and a holding call.
The Chiefs offense came back to the field with Mahomes at the helm.
That drive ended with a field goal to pad the Chief’s lead 16-3.
Cleveland looked like they were on their way to scoring again before halftime with a 26-yard gain from Mayfield to Njoku.
The Browns were just inches away from a touchdown when it was fumbled to the endzone, resulting in a touchback.
Kansas City got the ball back with 1:34 left before halftime.
With five seconds left in the half, the Chiefs got a 28-yard field goal to bump their lead to 19-3.
With two seconds left in the half, the Browns only had one drive to make some magic happen.
But, the score would remain 19-3 at halftime.
During halftime, Wills was ruled out for the rest of the game with an ankle injury.
Cleveland’s luck didn’t get better at the start of the third quarter.
Mayfield threw an interception, for the first time since Week 14 versus the Baltimore Ravens, on the opening drive.
Cleveland continued to struggle when LT Kendall Lamm went to the medical tent and Garrett walked to the sidelines with trainers after getting hurt.
But, their luck did turn with a four-yard touchdown pass to WR Jarvis Landry for six with 9:29 left in the third.
A good kick brought the Browns up to 19-10.
On the next Chiefs’ possession, a hit from Browns LB Mack Wilson caused Mahomes to leave the field for evaluation with 7:27 left in the third.
Mahomes left the tent to head to the locker room for what the Chiefs confirmed to be a concussion check.
With their starting QB out, the Chiefs settled for a field goal to increase their lead 22-10.
That would be the score to end the third quarter.
In the last quarter of the game, it was Hunt’s turn to shine in front of his former team by bringing the Browns within reach of taking the lead.
Hunt then celebrated by taking a nap in the endzone...
Add the extra point and the Browns moved up to 22-17, making it a one-touchdown game.
Kansas City then confirmed Mahomes was downgraded to out after being evaluated for a concussion.
Cleveland kept the heat coming with a takeaway thanks to S Karl Joseph.
But that flame fizzled out as the Browns weren’t able to secure the lead once in the game.
Cleveland’s historic season ended with the Chief’s 22-17 victory.
The Chiefs will go on to host the AFC Championship at Arrowhead for the third consecutive year as the Buffalo Bills head to Kansas City.