SportsPulse: The NFL’s first tremendous wild-card Saturday triple-header didn’t disappoint. USA TODAY Sports activities’ Mackenzie Salmon breaks down the most important tale strains from every recreation.


PITTSBURGH — Marvel, marvel. The Cleveland Browns have received a playoff recreation for the first time in 26 years.

By no means thoughts the 17-game shedding streak in Pittsburgh or the COVID-19 demanding situations that stored them off the observe box all week.

 The Browns surprised the Steelers within the greatest dissatisfied of “Tremendous Wild Card Weekend,” 48-37, to advance to an AFC divisional matchup at Kansas Town subsequent Sunday.

Cleveland (12-Five) stormed to a 28-Zero first-quarter lead, then held off a livid Pittsburgh comeback try that had the lead trimmed to 12 issues in the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Pittsburgh rally didn’t final. Nick Chubb took a display move from Baker Mayfield early within the fourth quarter and grew to become it right into a 40-yard landing.

The general end result put the Steelers (12-Five) out of the distress of a season that at one level appeared so promising — they had been the NFL’s final unbeaten workforce at 11-Zero — ahead of skidding off the rails during the last six weeks.

Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cleveland Browns operating again Kareem Hunt (27) celebrates after scoring a landing towards the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Picture: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports activities)

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Cleveland, within the playoffs for the first time since 2002, had now not received in postseason since Jan. 1, 1995, when it used to be coached by means of Invoice Belichick and received a 1994 wild-card recreation towards the New England Patriots.

On Sunday night time, the Browns didn’t also have their trainer, Kevin Stefanski, at the sideline, and nonetheless received at an empty Heinz Box. Stefanski used to be again in Cleveland, quarantined after checking out certain for COVID-19, leaving particular groups coordinator Mike Priefer to function intervening time trainer and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt to name the performs. The Browns had been additionally with out two starters of their secondary, Denzel Ward and Andrew Sendejo, nickel again Kevin Johnson and beginning left guard Joel Bitonio, all inactive whilst at the COVID-19 reserve listing.

 Countering all that the Browns didn’t have, right here’s what they’d for a successful components:

  — A snappy, early lead equipped by means of a Steelers gaffe. Heart Maurkice Pouncey’s wild shotgun snap at the recreation’s first offensive play used to be kicked into the tip zone and recovered by means of Karl Joseph for a Cleveland landing.

  — 4 interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger, who till Sunday night time had by no means misplaced to the Browns at Heinz Box (13-Zero) and used to be 24-2-1 towards the AFC North foe. The primary select resulted in a 40-yard, Baker Mayfield-to-Jarvis Landry landing that made it 14-Zero, more or less 5 mins into the competition. The second one select resulted in the second one of Kareem Hunt’s two first-quarter TD runs, extending the result in 28-Zero.

 — They replied the Steelers over an all over again. Past due within the first half of, Cleveland answered to Pittsburgh’s first TD with its personal TD march. Within the fourth quarter, Cleveland regained momentum with Chubb’s TD reception after the Steelers produced two second-half TD drives.

 3 different issues we discovered from the large dissatisfied at Heinz Box:

 — JuJu Smith-Schuster discovered differently to make a idiot of himself. The Steelers receiver ate crow after brushing aside the Browns as little greater than a nuisance right through a media consultation final week. Right here’s what he stated: “I feel they’re nonetheless the similar Browns that I’ve performed yearly. I suppose they’re anonymous grey faces. They have got a few just right avid gamers on their workforce. However on the finish of the day … the Browns is the Browns. I’m simply glad we’re enjoying them once more.” Such a lot for respecting your opponent. You’d suppose that Smith-Schuster would have discovered one thing about appreciate after his foolish pre-game dance ritual drew such rebuke and embarrassment that he declared in late-December that he would scrap the regimen. It didn’t take lengthy for him to search out every other type of lack of information.

  — No, Robert Spillane wasn’t the solution for Pittsburgh’s in poor health run protection. The interior linebacker ignored the ultimate 4 common video games with a knee damage, right through which period the Steelers allowed a median of 144 speeding yards in line with recreation — 33 yards upper than their season reasonable. Pittsburgh’s No. three protection completed the common season ranked 11th towards the run, the primary time all season that it didn’t rank within the most sensible 10. There used to be hope, alternatively, with Spillane’s go back. As a substitute, Spillane used to be run over by means of Kareem Hunt on an 11-yard TD run — with Hunt riding Spillane the general 4 yards into the tip zone once they collided within the open box. It used to be hardly ever all on Spillane because the Steelers protection normally regarded sluggish, slow and disinterested in tackling as Cleveland rushed for 132 yards, averaging four.7 a pop.

 —  The Browns aren’t the Colts… or the “previous” Browns. The one Steelers victory within the six weeks because the uh, absolute best document used to be extinguished, got here in Week 16 after they overcame a 24-7 deficit within the 0.33 quarter towards Indianapolis to declare a 28-24 determination. Smartly, that used to be then. Which brings us round to the most important comeback victory in Steelers playoff historical past. That got here with the 2002 Wild Card matchup towards…the Browns. Pittsburgh rallied from a 24-7 third-quarter deficit in that one, too, successful 36-33 in additional time. That, too, used to be then. On Sunday night time, Cleveland used to be hardly ever prepared to surrender the early and massive merit it constructed within the first half of. After Pittsburgh minimize into Cleveland’s 28-Zero lead with an excellent, 13-play, 89-yard TD power capped by means of a 1-yard James Conner plunge overdue in the second one quarter, the Browns briefly replied with a Nine-play, 64-yard power completed with Baker Mayfield’s 7-yard TD throw to Austin Hooper. With a potent speeding recreation, Cleveland used to be well-equipped to stop the crisis of blowing an enormous lead. 

With 1:09 left, the Steelers scored a TD and two-point conversion to drag inside of 11.

Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards.


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