Curses set aside, Browns take playoff push to KC

Browns DE Porter Gustin is among the scrappy underdawgs who picked off Pittsburgh passes in their first playoff win of the millennium. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

This blog started way back in 2002, one wild ride of a season, which featured the last Browns playoff team. Until now.

Second-year coach Butch Davis‘ pro peak started with Dwayne Rudd serving up a Kansas City win in the form of an ill-advised celebratory helmet toss just before the end of what should’ve been the game’s last play. Still, that 40-39 heartbreaker seemed to confirm that Cleveland, in its fourth year of the reincarnation, was emerging into a potent bunch.

After all, it was backup Kelly Holcomb who lit up the Chiefs for 326 yards and three TDs in just his second career start. That squad’s strength was its wide receiving unit, sporting a slew of second-round draft picks collectively known as the Four Deuces. Three of them (Dennis Northcutt, Andre Davis, and Quincy Morgan) scored in that memorable opener, and the fourth (Kevin Johnson) threw a TD pass on a trick play.

2002 stands out like no Browns team since the 1980 Kardiac Kids for its penchant for thrilling, dramatic finishes. Even 18 years later I recall a horizontal QB Tim Couch desperately lobbing a pass that went for a key two-point conversion against the Jets; Northcutt almost single-handedly rallying them from 14 down to an overtime win at Tennessee; Morgan hauling in a Hail Mary to save a 6-6 team’s playoff hopes; Couch leading a must-have touchdown drive in Baltimore; the epic “Run, William, Run” breakout moment for rookie RB William Green.

But alas, it ended the same way the most recent previous Browns playoff had in 1994: with their third loss of the season to the Steelers in the playoffs. Despite another stellar effort from Holcomb that brought the Browns to a 17-point third-quarter lead, a controversial prevent defense and failure to grind down the clock rushing cost them their season.

Fans with any sense of this history were surely both grateful to get into the 2020 playoffs and apprehensive about what would come next. Would it end like 1994 and 2002 had, at the hands of the dreaded Steelers?

Well, you know the answer. You probably saw the game. It was NBC’s largest audience for anything since the last Super Bowl. Against all manner of adversity — head coach Kevin Stefanski bunkered down at home, lacking their best offensive lineman and defensive back, losing two more linemen during the game, a 17-game losing streak at Heinz Field — the reborn Browns franchise shocked the football world with a 28-point first quarter en route to a 48-37 upset.

And that, my fellow fans, is what gets this old die-hard Browns fan to blow the dust off this blog and add to the chorus of celebration for what truly seems like the end of a long, lamentable era of zombie football, carousels of coaches, squandered draft selections, and a cultural inferiority complex.

Only eight of the NFL’s 32 teams still harbor Super Bowl hopes. Only one of them will win three straight games and claim the Lombardi Trophy. To be among the league’s elite is worth taking a moment to sit and digest.


The irony of the playoffs is that of the league’s finest teams, all but one will end their season in defeat. All those efforts and accomplishments tend to get overshadowed by the recency effect, that last bad taste of dashed hopes.

So savor each moment of this still breathing Browns season. It’s been a beauty. It’s a season that, to be honest, I thought was a bad idea from a public health perspective. But from a mental health point of view, the Browns have actually been a positive force for a change!

We see hotshot quarterback Baker Mayfield growing up before our eyes. In Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt we have a pair of selfless and rugged running backs. When since Lenny Ford have we had as game-changing a pass rusher as Myles Garrett? Feisty WR Jarvis Landry seems to have finally put the kibosh on the Curse of 80. And true to our underdawg spirit, all manner of unheralded players have bought into the Stefanski system and stepped into essential roles in this age of Covid.

That said, to be the best, you must beat the best. Sunday the Browns will take on the reigning Super Bowl champs in Kansas City. They’re ten-point underdawgs, according to these football odds.

I’ll be eager to see how Joe Woods’ defense schemes against Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and KC’s myriad weapons. The back end of our defense has been a liability in general, but the return of CB Denzel Ward is encouraging.

And if the Browns’ rushing game can continue to burst through for a dozen yards at a time with relative frequency, all the better for Mayfield’s play-action bootlegs and for keeping the home team’s skill players on the sidelines.

It’ll be the end of the season if they lose, but not the end of the world. Some joke that only a Browns Super Bowl title will herald that.

Either way, it’s been a successful season overall, so long overdue and despite very troubling times in this nation and world.

But if they win and head to their first AFC title game in 31 years, all the better for forging glorious memories that families and cities and communities of Browns fans can bank on generations.

Dwayne Rudd is long gone, so let’s keep our heads about us and make new history together.