By Amy Tennery
(Reuters) – The Cleveland Browns snapped the longest active playoff drought in the National Football League (NFL) on Sunday, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-22 to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002.
Years of agony – including 12 straight losing seasons – melted away for beleaguered Browns fans as running back Nick Chubb ran for a 47-yard first-quarter touchdown, in a game that saw former first overall pick Baker Mayfield throw for 196 yards.
A short pass to tight end Austin Hooper for a touchdown in the third quarter and a three-yard run into the endzone by five-time Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry in the fourth gave Cleveland the advantage, as Mayfield scrambled for the first down with a little over a minute left to run out the clock.
“It’s not over,” head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters. “We’ve got work left to do. I like this football team, I like how this football team works, I like how this football team responds when their back’s up against the wall.”
Positive COVID-19 tests within the franchise kept the Browns’ facility off-limits for players and coaches for several days leading up to Sunday’s showdown, a week after they were forced to play without their top-tier receivers in a 23-26 loss to the New York Jets due to health and safety restrictions.
Mayfield said it was particularly satisfying to see the joy shared among the team’s equipment and support staff, who have been with the team for far longer than he, after closing the book on their 11-5 regular season.
“The people that are around us that work more hours than we do, and they make our lives easier in a year of ups and downs, it means so much to them – and that’s truly what it’s all about,” said Mayfield.
The victory over the Steelers, who already booked their ticket to the postseason after winning the AFC North, gave their fans a reason to cheer.
“Playoff bound! Congrats @Browns!! Yessir!!!! Don’t be satisfied though!” four-time NBA champion and Akron, Ohio, native LeBron James wrote on Twitter.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Sam Holmes)