As the clock ticked down to the final seconds Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, Browns players, coaches and fans were making scenes that won't be forgotten anytime soon in Cleveland's football history.
First, there was the run. It came from quarterback Baker Mayfield on third-and-2 with just over a minute left. He tucked the football, sprinted up the right sideline and dashed past the first-down marker.
Then, there was the celebration.
It started with Mayfield's roar and fist pump — the same emphatic fist pump he's done so many times over his three seasons with the Browns. 12,000 fans in the stadium howled into the cloudy Cleveland sky as Mayfield took one final kneel-down to drain the clock, and the yells continued as the Browns relished in their first playoff-clinching moment since 2002.
The Browns officially entered them with their 24-22 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, which led to celebrations of coaches, players and fans as "Cleveland Rocks" by The Presidents Of The United States Of America blared over the speakers. They jumped. They danced. They yelled.
The NFL's longest playoff drought was over, but as players and coaches huddled into the locker room, they had one message.
"We're not satisfied," Mayfield said. "We expected to be here. We've worked extremely hard to get here … but we're on to the next one. We're not satisfied."
Check out photos of the Steelers against the Browns
Don't be mistaken — the Browns are certainly celebrating their first trip to the playoffs in nearly two decades. Music blared from the locker room as players removed their jerseys and danced to commemorate the end of a successful, grueling and unusual regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Making the playoffs in 2020 required more tolerance for adversity than any other NFL season, and the Browns deserve to salute the success of their 16 games.
But they know that their 17th game will carry even more importance.
"There is work left to be done," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "The goal was never just to make the playoffs. That is the message to the guys."
The Browns never had an easy path to reach the playoffs. That was always true for the last 17 playoff-less seasons in Cleveland, and it stayed true in the week leading up to the most important game of that timespan.
In the seven days before Sunday, the Browns learned that six players needed to be placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and wouldn't be available. TE Harrison Bryant, LB B.J. Goodson, LB Malcolm Smith, CB Denzel Ward, CB Kevin Johnson and S Andrew Sendejo all held key roles with the Browns. None were going to be available for one of the biggest games in franchise history.
Coaches and players, however, always expressed confidence in their depth. Week 17 was the second consecutive week in which the Browns were forced to dig into their depth chart at key positions. This time, players like CB Robert Jackson, who had logged six defensive snaps all season, and rookie linebacker Jacob Phillips, who had only started two games all season, were starters. Cleveland was down Goodson, a top leader at linebacker, and Ward, who has built arguably his best season with the Browns, among other key players.
But the Browns knew what was at stake: Win, or face the possibility of going home until August. No excuses.
"The mentality here is we are in our playoffs just one week early," Mayfield said earlier this week. "It's win or go home. We just have to go out there, execute it and do our jobs."
Everyone pitched in to win. One week after fumbling three times and vowing for better ball protection, Mayfield finished 17-of-27 for 196 yards and a touchdown and committed zero turnovers. Running back Nick Chubb rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry recorded a team-high five receptions for 51 yards and scored a rushing touchdown to give the Browns their biggest lead of the game.
Even the position groups hardest hit by COVID-19-related roster moves made plays. Cornerback M.J. Stewart Jr. intercepted Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph to set the Browns up for their third touchdown. When the Browns needed to stop a two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter to prevent Pittsburgh from tying the game, the secondary provided lockdown coverage and forced an incompletion.
The Browns gave a four-quarter, full-team effort. Their reward is the postseason and the gift of being remembered in Cleveland as a winning football team for decades to come.
"We're just paying (the fans) back for all of the time and the effort they have invested," defensive end Myles Garrett said. "There are so many Browns (fans) all over the world who were happy to see us get this win and finally get into the dance."
But the Browns aren't done.
As long as there's a game on the schedule, they won't be ready to fully reflect on what they've accomplished this season. Their next game, a rematch as the No. 6 seed against the Steelers in the AFC Wild Card Round, is a chance to stack another enormous level of success. It's another chance to give Cleveland a second afternoon of cheers and yells and jubilation.
One day of celebration isn't enough. The Browns want more.
"It's not over," Stefanski said. "We have work left to do. I like this football team. I like how this football team responds when their back is up against the wall. We will just keep grinding on this thing, and we will wait for the reflection much later."