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Browns leaders reflect on 'creating the standard,' bringing playoff football back to Cleveland

The job isn’t done yet, but the Browns have delivered on their promise of making 2020 a successful season

Baker Mayfield didn't wait until he joined the Cleveland Browns to show his confidence in bringing a winning culture to Cleveland.

When Mayfield, just a few months removed from winning the 2017 Heisman Trophy, met with dozens of national reporters at the scouting combine, he made a statement that made his confidence clear — if the Browns selected him with their first overall pick, they were going to draft a winner.

"If anybody's gonna turn that franchise around, it'd be me," Mayfield said. "I'd be able to put it in the right direction. They're very close. They have the right pieces."

Just six days after Mayfield, now in his third season with the Browns, made that statement, the team acquired someone else who believed they could bring winning football to Cleveland: Jarvis Landry

The Browns traded for the sure-handed wide receiver from the Miami Dolphins and signed him to a five-year extension a month later. He's made several statements touting his goal to bring success to the Browns in his three seasons since, and he's already become one of the most embraced receivers in franchise history.

"My goal coming here is not to just win one game and have a parade or win two games," he said in a 2018 interview with "My goal is to win a championship. Every game is a championship for me. I want to win them all." 

Then, there's Joel Bitonio, the longest tenured player on the team. There's Myles Garrett, the unquestionable leader of the defense and one of the greatest defensive players to ever wear a Browns uniform. There's Kevin Stefanski, who brought all of the pieces together under unprecedented circumstances due to COVID-19 pandemic and made 2020 feel like 2002 — the last time the Browns made the playoffs.

All of those people, among others, had one goal when they joined the Browns: bring a winning culture to Cleveland. 

After the Browns' win over the Steelers on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, that goal has been accomplished.

"All it takes is you have to weather the storm," Mayfield said. "A lot of people here have weathered the storm and rolled with those punches, and you are seeing the benefits of just staying tough and doing that, facing adversity head on and saying we are tired of it, and let's go onto the next one."

"The next one" will be the biggest game the Browns have had in nearly two decades.

Check out photos of the Steelers against the Browns

Heinz Field is the location. The Steelers are the opponent (again). And the playoffs — on Sunday Night Football — is the stage.

It's exactly what players like Mayfield, Landry, Bitonio, Garrett and more pictured when they envisioned being part of a winning football team in Cleveland. It's what Stefanski vowed to bring when he was hired nearly a year ago.

Now, it's finally here. The Browns have become the NFL's most recent team to shed several years of baggage from unsuccessful football, and they did it after months of virtual meetings, last-minute schedule changes and finding ways to build chemistry and trust despite little person-to-person interactions due to the pandemic. 

Nothing about 2020 was truly normal in the NFL, but the Browns still found a way to finally reach the top of the mountain in building a playoff-caliber football team. And the credit is being spread to all corners of the team.

"Really organizationally, just thinking about all of the people who have wanted this and wanted to taste this, I'm really proud to be a part of this for them," said Stefanski, who gave game balls to Dee and Jimmy Haslam and Bitonio in the locker room. "(There are) people who have been with the organization for a long time, and they deserve this, so I'm happy for them."

But all key figures who have helped turn the franchise into a winner in 2020 recognize that the job isn't done. They're not at the finish line. They've just moved to the front of the pack.

A winning "culture" isn't short-term, temporary success. It must be sustained, and the most the Browns can do to keep that going this season is by keeping another game on their schedule. 

"It's about never being satisfied and understanding that you can't be satisfied," Landry said. "We're creating a standard here. This is playoff football, and we're here. We have an opportunity to just keep on going forward one game at a time. That's how we have to look at it."

The Browns are going back to step No. 1. This year, though, that first step requires coaches to develop their 17th weekly game plan of the season. For players, that first step requires reviewing tape and practicing on the grass in Berea for another week. For everyone, it requires hopping on a bus, traveling to the home of an AFC North rival and preparing for the biggest game many of them have ever been a part of.

It's no longer about packing up belongings in a locker room, conducting exit interviews and preparing for a long offseason. Not this year.

The playoffs have arrived in Cleveland. And for several players, coaches and team members who vowed to bring positive change … 

Well, their promise is being fulfilled. 

"We have a chance," Bitonio said. "We're in the dance."

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