PITTSBURGH — The Browns made it clear from the moment they clinched their first playoff berth in 18 years they weren't satisfied.
A national, primetime audience got to see exactly what that meant Sunday on a historic night Browns fans won't soon forget. And if they were a little late, they missed one of the best playoff first quarters the NFL has ever seen.
With four rapid-fire touchdowns, the Browns made NFL history with 28 first-quarter points, the most-ever in the playoffs, and rolled up a few more accolades along the way to secure the franchise's first postseason victory since 1994.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the Browns' 48-37 win over the Steelers was yet another display of the kind of resolve that got the team to this point of the NFL calendar. Without their head coach, without a slew of key contributors and with just one practice under their belts after a week that was drastically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Browns dug deep and played the kind of complementary, opportunistic football that wins games in January.
"I told them after the game ... I admire them so much and I respect them," said special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who served as the acting head coach in place of Kevin Stefanski, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.
"They have had so much adversity in terms of schedule changes – I know everybody has had adversity and I am not trying to say we had any more adversity than anybody else – but at the end of the day, this was a difficult week and a playoff week, but they never batted an eye."
Stefanski coached the team virtually throughout the week but was not permitted to have any contact during Sunday's game. He was a part of the postgame celebration, though, as he and a number of other players and coaches who weren't able to be a part of the Browns' first road playoff victory since 1969 joined the fun via Zoom.
"To have those guys there in our celebration was great," QB Baker Mayfield said. "The best thing about it was the mentality of everybody saying, 'Hey, we did not just want to just win this game.' Like I said last week, it is just the stepping stone to where we eventually want to go. For a lot of guys, it was a huge win – my first playoff win, for starters – but nobody here is satisfied yet."
The Browns advance to the AFC Divisional Round and will face the No. 1 seed and defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Kickoff is set for Sunday at 3:05 p.m. on CBS.
"We have been the underdogs since the beginning of the season," DE Myles Garrett said. "Nobody thought that we would have a winning record. Nobody thought that we were going to get to the playoffs. Nobody thought that we were going to do anything in the playoffs. We just have to keep on proving people wrong. That is what it is all about. Don't hold yourself to other people's standards."
Cleveland's defense forced five turnovers, tied for its most all season, with three of them coming in the first quarter. The Browns picked off Ben Roethlisberger four times and forced the veteran QB to try to single-handedly bring back the Steelers from a double-digit deficit they faced almost the entire night.
Mayfield, meanwhile, came out firing with a quick touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry and finished with 263 yards and three touchdowns in the first playoff game of his career. Though the Browns were without Pro Bowl G Joel Bitonio and lost RT Jack Conklin to an injured hamstring in the first half, Mayfield had plenty of time to throw and wasn't sacked. He didn't throw an interception for the fourth straight game.
"That guy has an amazing amount of self-confidence in a good way and I know he has some swagger to him, but I love the way he handles adversity," Priefer said.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were a force from start to finish, and they were equally dangerous on the ground as they were through the air. Chubb rushed for 76 yards and added 69 through the air, the bulk of which coming on a 40-yard screen touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Hunt scored twice while amassing a combined 61 yards of offense.
Landry led all Browns receivers with five catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Austin Hooper added seven catches for 46 yards and a touchdown.
Roethlisberger threw for a whopping 501 yards and four touchdowns, but the Steelers never drew closer than 12 despite dominating time of possession and out-gaining the Browns, 553-390.
"We took it to them. They were going to get our very best shot," Garrett said. "We were able to pounce on them early and hold onto the lead."
It started with the very first snap of the game, and it only got better and better from there in the Browns' historic, 28-point first quarter.
Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey airmailed the first snap of the game well over Ben Roethlisberger's head, and no one laid hands on it until the 2-yard line. The ball squirted free a couple of more times before Browns S Karl Joseph secured it for the stunning, game-opening defensive touchdown.
"That was a hell of a momentum swing for us from the very jump, and we just took it from there," Garrett said.
M.J. Stewart got the ball on the Steelers' next possession when he picked off Roethlisberger and set up the Browns near midfield. It took Cleveland just three plays to turn the takeaway into a touchdown, as Mayfield fired a strike in stride to Landry, who sprinted across the field and curled into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown with 9:46 to play in the quarter.
Hunt scored his first of two touchdowns to cap a six-play, 65-yard drive, bulldozing his way into the end zone and dragging a few Steelers with him along the way on an 11-yard touchdown run.
"It was win or go home now," Hunt said. "I am going to do everything I can to help this team win. I am always going to leave it all out there. I love the game of football. With every opportunity I get, I am going to try and make something happen with it."
That came with 4:40 left in the quarter, but the Browns weren't done.
Sheldrick Redwine dove to intercept Roethlisberger on the ensuing possession, got up and returned it to the Steelers' 15-yard line. Hunt punched it in from 8 yards, giving the Browns a whopping 28 points in the first quarter with 1:56 to spare.
"Everybody on the sideline was like, 'Let's just keep this lead. Let's keep it going. Let's just go out and do our job,'" Mayfield said. "Being up 28-0 in the first quarter is obviously an incredible start. You just have to capitalize. At that point, it is tricky whether you play not to lose or you continue to play aggressive, and we did an OK job. We kind of stalled out for a little while there, but picked it back up in the second half."
The Steelers snapped the shutout with 1:44 to play in the second quarter with a James Conner touchdown but the Browns provided an immediate response. Needing just 1:10, the Browns drove 64 yards and reclaimed a 28-point advantage on Mayfield's 7-yard touchdown pass to Hooper.
The Steelers came roaring back in the third quarter with back-to-back touchdown drives to make Cleveland's big halftime lead much more manageable, and the Browns didn't have the same kind of answers.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers moved at a quick pace and picked up nearly all of their yards through the air. Eric Ebron hauled in the first touchdown, a 17-yarder, while JuJu Smith-Schuster caught the second, a 5-yarder on fourth-and-goal to make the score 35-23 with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
Though it floundered a bit in the third quarter, Cleveland's offense woke up in a big way on an early fourth quarter drive to ease some of the stress.
Following a Steelers punt from midfield, Mayfield found Landry for a big third-down conversion with a 17-yard pass, and the Browns were in the end zone a few plays later when Chubb took a screen, plowed through two defenders and sprinted for the 40-yard touchdown.
It was at that moment a collective exhale could be felt among Browns fans, who watched their team end their playoff victory drought in historic fashion.
"It is a hell of a feeling with the history in this building that has been that the Browns do not win, especially when Ben is here," Garrett said. "We are just trying to change the culture and change the trajectory of our team and what people think about us."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Pittsburgh Steelers