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Biggest Plays

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6 plays that changed the game in the Browns' win over the Steelers

Welcome to the Divisional Playoff Round, Cleveland.

The Browns advanced to the next round of the playoffs with a dominant, stunning and historic 48-37 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field. An electric first quarter full of game-changing plays on nearly every sequence ignited Cleveland to an early rout, and after a brief comeback attempt from Pittsburgh, the Browns dug even deeper to solidify their first playoff win since 1994.

Here's how it all went down on an unforgettable night in Pittsburgh.

1. Defense opens with a fumble recovery in the end zone

No, really. That's how this game started.

On the first play from scrimmage, center Maurkice Pouncey, whom the Steelers opted to rest last week in Week 17 against the Browns, fired a snap over the head of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The ball rolled, rolled and rolled some more all the way back to the goal line. Running back James Conner and Roethlisberger had the head start to pick it up and couldn't corral it. Browns linebacker B.J. Goodson attempted to scoop it, too, but he pushed the ball past the goal line and into the end zone.

Safety Karl Joseph was the man who finally picked it up.

Six points, and all it took was one snap.

2. Hunt scores 2nd touchdown in the 1st quarter to make history

We could've filled our list of game-changing plays with moments just from the first quarter alone, but we had to be selective about which ones truly mattered most in a game full of big moments.

How about the one that made history?

The Browns offense only needed 12 plays to increase their lead to four possessions. That's a 28-0 lead, and they built it after they got their second touchdown from running back Kareem Hunt. He zipped through the Steelers' defense for 8 yards to give Cleveland yet another six points and continue one of the greatest starts to a football game in franchise history.

The boundaries for the greatness of the Browns' start go beyond the franchise, though. After kicker Cody Parkey kicked the PAT, the Browns broke the NFL record for most points scored in the first quarter of a playoff game.

It truly couldn't get much better for the Browns' first playoff game since 2002.

But there were still three quarters left.

3. Austin Hooper catches 7-yard touchdown to give Browns 35 first-half points

Only a select portion of Browns fans remember the last time Cleveland was in a playoff game.

An even smaller amount of that group will remember the last time the Browns had a half in the playoffs as dominant as Sunday's first half.

The Browns scored 35 points in the first half after tight end Austin Hooper caught a 7-yard touchdown pass with 37 seconds left in the half. The scoring output is tied for the most the Browns scored in the half of any game since they scored 35 in the first half against the Detroit Lions in 1954.

For a brief history lesson, that roster contained future Hall of Famers in quarterback Otto Graham, left tackle Lou Groza and right guard Chuck Noll, who became one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time after his playing days.

The Browns were truly playing at a special level Sunday, but more big plays were needed to close out the game in the second half.

Check out photos of the Browns against the Pittsburgh Steelers

4. Smith-Schuster catches Steelers' third TD to cut deficit

The Browns' first half might have been historic, but the Steelers weren't going to fold, and Cleveland needed to be ready for a fight.

The Steelers gave it to them. After scoring their first touchdown in the second quarter and another to open the third, Pittsburgh's offense was beginning to build consistent, stable drives that challenged the Browns.

With three minutes left in the third quarter, the Steelers capped off a 12-play, 68-yard drive that ended with Roethlisberger hitting wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 5-yard touchdown.

The deficit had been cut to 35-23, and now the Browns were in the driver's seat to pad their lead with more points, play smoother defense or continue to toe the line of a massive comeback.

5. Chubb re-cushions lead with 40-yard touchdown reception

Nick Chubb has been a hero for Cleveland all season.

His ability to put games away has been a huge factor in nearly every Browns game this season. His biggest plays have almost always come in the forms or runs, but he's no stranger to busting away for big gains after short passes, either.

That's precisely what offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt chalked up for the Browns on second-and-9 from Pittsburgh's 40. Mayfield hit Chubb with a dump-off pass, and with a small number of Steelers in his way, Chubb worked his way through everyone and reached the end zone.

Cleveland's lead was extended to 42-29 and helped bring the Browns closer to victory, but more work was still needed.

6. Takitaki seals the win with an INT

The Browns' defense started the game with some of the biggest plays they've made all season. They intercepted Roethlisberger three times in the first half and made four turnovers to set the tone.

They ended the game with a big play, too.

On first-and-10 from the Steelers' own 40, Roethlisberger attempted to sling a pass that would've netted Pittsburgh a first down and marched the offense into Browns territory for a late game-changing touchdown.

But Sione Takitaki was in the way. He leaped to snare the pass to give Roethlisberger interception No. 4 and give the Browns sidelines — and the whole city of Cleveland — one final play to go crazy about.

Next stop: The Divisional Playoff Round.

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