Cleveland Browns: What Now?

I…I had an article prepared, you know.

I’d even begun my traditional process of writing the post-game article in my head. I’d planned a sort of “where do we go from here” article, detailing how the Browns could fix their defense through free agency and the draft. An article in which I as a Browns fan would celebrate a great season where the Browns skipped a step in their rebuild, got back into the playoffs, but due to injuries and COVID-19 complications, simply had too much adversity to overcome.

And much like so many others, I was proven wrong by the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns played with their hair on fire in the first round of the playoffs, racing out to a 28-0 lead against the rival Steelers by the time the first quarter was over. Pittsburgh did creep back during the second half, even bringing the game within twelve points in the third quarter, but the hole that Ben Roethlisberger and his squad dug themselves in the game’s opening minutes was too much to overcome.

If you’ll allow me to be a fan for just a moment, this is, unequivocally, the greatest win of the “New Browns” era. Since 1999, I’m not sure I’ve seen such a good a performance from my team. Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett, and all 53 Cleveland Browns showed last night that not only do they belong in the playoffs, but they can do some damage in the AFC as well.

Cleveland’s offense is at least pretty good at just about every position when healthy. Mayfield is now clearly a franchise quarterback, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are some of the league’s best backs, Jarvis Landry is Mr. Reliable, Donovan Peoples-Jones feels like a star in the making, and all of this is complemented by a solid offensive line. Naturally, the Browns are not without flaws, and had I written that “where do we go from here” article after a loss last night, I could have detailed them. But with a victory, I’m much more hesitant, so I’ll make it quick.

The Browns still have many holes on defense. Although defensive coordinator Joe Woods has preached “next man up” to perfection and players like MJ Stewart have shown up for Cleveland, their defense is far from complete. Getting Grant Delpit and Greedy Williams back for 2021 will be a huge help, but the Browns should look for a linebacker in the draft’s early goings. But now, back to positive vibes.

Baker Mayfield proved himself as a league-wide threat tonight, winning his playoff debut against one of the deadliest defenses in the NFL. Mayfield completed 62% of his passes, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions for 263 yards against the Steelers. Pro Football Focus reports that, against Pittsburgh’s blitzes, Mayfield was especially successful, to the tune of 14-of-20, 160 yards, and two touchdowns. Cleveland’s offensive line also helped him pick apart the Steelers, keeping their quarterback completely clean for the entire game.

The Browns shut everyone (including myself) right up on Sunday night. In front of the country, as the only game on television, Cleveland climbed up to the top of the mountain, gritted their teeth, clutched their sword, and slayed the dragon that has been burning their village for the past two decades. With their first win in Pittsburgh since 2003, a weight has been lifted from the Browns’ shoulders today. Cleveland can breath easy knowing that they defeated Big Ben, in his house, in a game of consequence where it truly was “win or go home.” So, as the Browns, where do we go from here?

Kansas City, I guess. I hope to see you there.

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