EditorsNote: Adds quotes, corrects spelling of JuJu in 6th graf, fixed M.J. Stewart Jr. in 8th graf, other minor edits
The visiting Cleveland Browns scored 14 seconds into the game and Kareem Hunt ran for two touchdowns Sunday en route to a 48-37 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC wild-card game.
Cleveland plays next Sunday at Kansas City.
The Browns, in their first playoff game since 2002, were without coach Kevin Stefanski, who tested positive for COVID-19, and assorted other coaches and players because of protocol related to the pandemic.
The Steelers won the AFC North but lost four of their final five regular-season games following an 11-0 start, including a 24-22 defeat last week against Cleveland when four key starters were rested.
Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield was 21-of-34 passing for 263 yards and touchdowns to Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper and Nick Chubb as the team notched its first playoff victory since the 1994 season.
“We believed,” Mayfield said. “People on the outside don’t matter to us. It’s what’s on the inside, and we believed the whole time, and that’s all that matters.”
Ben Roethlisberger, one of those rested last week, completed 47 of 68 passes for 501 yards, with four touchdowns to Chase Claypool (two), Eric Ebron and JuJu Smith-Schuster, and four interceptions. James Connor ran for a touchdown.
The game’s first snap, by Pittsburgh Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey, went over Roethlisberger’s head. Karl Joseph recovered it in the end zone for a 7-0 Cleveland lead.
M.J. Stewart Jr. picked off Roethlisberger to set up Landry’s 40-yard touchdown catch over the middle to make it 14-0, and Hunt bulled his way in from 11 yards for a 21-0 lead just more than 10 minutes into the contest.
Sheldrick Redwine’s interception set up Hunt’s 8-yard run touchdown run to push it to 28-0 with 1:56 left in the opening quarter.
“Not a lot to say,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “We didn’t perform well enough. Not coaching, not playing.”
Connor’s 1-yard scoring run cut it to 28-7 with 1:44 left in the first half, but Cleveland answered with Mayfield finding Hooper from 7 yards to make it 35-7.
Chris Boswell’s 49-yard field goal as the half ended left it 35-10.
The Steelers pulled to within 35-16 on Ebron’s 17-yard scoring catch and a failed attempt at a two-point conversion with 7:22 left in the third quarter.
On fourth down in the third quarter, Roethlisberger’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Smith-Schuster cut it to 35-23, but Chubb countered with a 40-yard touchdown catch to push the margin back to 19.
Claypool’s 29-yard scoring catch, and a missed two-point attempt, made it 42-29.
Cody Parkey tacked on field goals of 24 and 37 to make it 48-29.
Claypool’s 7-yard touchdown catch and two-point conversion were too little, too late.
–Field Level Media