Cleveland Browns: Playoff Drought Is Over, But Browns Want More
The Browns sent their long-suffering fans into celebration by making the playoffs for the first time since 2002 – snapping an 18-year drought. After Sunday’s 24-22 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland will face the Steelers again Sunday night in Pittsburgh in the wild-card weekend finale.
Pittsburgh has beaten the Browns 17 straight times at Heinz Field, so the Browns will be trying to end another drought once the playoffs begin. That's fine with Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who celebrated on the field after Sunday's win, but quickly turned his attention to the first playoff game of his three-year career.
"We're not satisfied," Mayfield said via ClevelandBrowns.com. "We expected to be here. We've worked extremely hard to get here. But we're on to the next one."
No matter what happens against the Steelers, the 2020 Browns will be remembered. Some of their most famous fans weighed in on social media following Sunday's victory like LeBron James, Drew Carey and former Browns running back Eric Metcalf.
Much credit for the Browns' success goes to first-year Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, who changed the culture in Cleveland and got its talented roster to reach its potential. Stefanski interviewed for the job in 2019, but the Browns decided on Freddie Kitchens, who was fired after just one season. Stefanski returned to the Minnesota Vikings in 2019 as their offensive coordinator, and when he interviewed with the Browns a second time, they decided he was the right person for the job.
"I went back to the Vikings working for Coach [Mike] Zimmer and had a great year," Stefanski said via Peter King of NBC's Pro Football Talk. "Worked with Gary Kubiak for a season and it made me a better coach. Whenever you're up for something you don't get, of course there's disappointment. But I think it all worked out."
Now Stefanski says it's time to get back to work, preparing for a playoff game in Pittsburgh where the Browns will be underdogs.
"It's not over," Stefanski said. "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."
Pittsburgh Steelers: Can Steelers Regain Early-Season Form During Playoffs?
The Steelers won the AFC North, but they dropped four of their last five after winning their first 11 games. Pittsburgh rested some of its starters, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, in Sunday's loss to Cleveland. But it remains to be seen if the Steelers can recapture the momentum they had earlier this season when they were playing their best football.
Pittsburgh appeared to escape Sunday's game without any significant injuries. A player to watch next week is rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool (62 catches, 873 yards, nine touchdowns), who was targeted 11 times Sunday by backup quarterback Mason Rudolph. Head Coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers wanted to work Claypool to help him prepare for the playoffs.
"It was our intention to feature him a little bit today," Tomlin said. "We wanted him to have that type of rhythm and that type of confidence in his playmaking ability going into January ball. We were able to check that box."
Cincinnati Bengals: Zac Taylor Will Return As Head Coach
Speculation that Zac Taylor might not be back as Cincinnati's head coach ended Monday morning when the Bengals announced he would return for a third season.
Following Sunday's 38-3 loss to the Ravens, the Bengals have gone 6-25-1 in two seasons under Taylor, but Owner Mike Brown believes a formula for success is being built. The Bengals expect rookie quarterback Joe Burrow to make a full recovery from his season-ending knee injury, and they will continue to move forward with Taylor.
"We remain bullish on the foundation Zac is building, and we look forward to next year giving our fans the winning results we all want," Brown said in a statement. "In Zac's two years, we have added many new starters and contributors through the draft, we have invested heavily in free agency, and we have acquired a talented young quarterback with a bright future.
"This season we faced challenges with injuries at key positions and missed opportunities. That adversity and hard work will help us next season."