Los Angeles – The Cleveland Browns ended their playoff drought in spectacular fashion on Sunday, exploding for 28 first-quarter points in a stunning 48-37 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Browns, in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, shook off a spate of COVID-19 absences to earn their first postseason win since 1994 and send Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers home.
They booked a meeting with the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs next week.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, 25, wasn’t even born the last time Cleveland won a playoff game, but kept the team on track despite the pandemic-related disruption to Cleveland’s preparations.
“We believed,” he said of predictions the depleted Browns — playing without a string of players as well as head coach Kevin Stefanski because of coronavirus protocols — would crumble. “The people on the outside don’t matter to us, and we believed the whole time.”
The Browns took the lead on the first play from scrimmage. Pittsburgh’s nine-time Pro-Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey sailed a shotgun snap over Roethlisberger and Browns safety Karl Joseph fell on the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
Cleveland’s M.J. Stewart intercepted Roethlisberger on Pittsburgh’s next series and Mayfield connected on a short pass to Jarvis Landry, who turned and ran for a 40-yard touchdown that made the score 14-0.
Kareem Hunt added two rushing touchdowns — the second set up by another Roethlisberger interception — to help the Browns take a 28-0 lead and match the NFL playoff record for points in the first quarter.
Roethlisberger opened the second quarter with another interception before Pittsburgh finally got on the board with a touchdown midway through the quarter.
The Browns responded with a TD drive and a Steelers field goal made the score 35-10 lead at the half.
Pittsburgh narrowed the gap with two third-quarter touchdowns, but Cleveland withstood the attempted rally. When Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki intercepted Roethlisberger with 3:16 remaining in the fourth quarter it was essentially over.
Roethlisberger threw four interceptions while Mayfield, making his playoff debut, connected on 21 of 34 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Ravens 20, Titans 13
In Nashville, Tennessee, Lamar Jackson rushed for a touchdown on the way to recording his first playoff win in Baltimore’s victory over the Titans. The win propels the Ravens into a meeting with the second-seeded Buffalo Bills on the road on Saturday.
Jackson completed 17 of 24 passes for 179 yards and rushed 16 times for 136 yards, including a 48-yard score with 2:32 left in the second quarter.
Titans running back Derrick Henry, who had the eighth 2,000-yard season in league history, was held to 40 yards on 18 carries.
Saints 21, Bears 9
In New Orleans, Drew Brees threw two touchdown passes and the Saints defense dominated in a victory over visiting Chicago in their NFC wild-card game. The NFC South champion Saints advance to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round next Sunday.
Brees completed 28 of 39 passes for 265 yards while Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky completed 19 of 29 for 199 yards.
The Bears, who finished the regular season 8-8 to claim the last wild card in the NFC, gained just 239 yards and 11 first downs, five of which came in the final two minutes.
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