By Kate Arhar // @ClvlndK8
The NFL playoffs are underway and what a wild weekend it was! With the expanded playoff field, there were two full days of football, with three games on both Saturday and Sunday. Sunday featured two games for the AFC, bringing together two teams that are becoming rivals and a quarterback who may be playing his last season in the league.
Sunday started with the Baltimore Ravens visiting the Tennessee Titans in a game that came right down to the end. And the day ended with the third meeting this season between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was great to see the AFC North highlighted in these two games as the only division that sent three teams to the playoffs! Let’s take a look at what went down.
This game was billed as being Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson vs Titans running back Derrick Henry…. and it was! The Baltimore defense had a simple plan: stop Henry. He had no room to run against at a defense that stacked 8+ defenders in the box on 72% of his runs. The game plan looked similar to what the Browns were able to do to Henry back in Week 13.
Apparently, the Ravens took offense to the Titans dancing on their mid-field logo in the loss on November 22nd and they didn’t forget. Following a QB Ryan Tannehill interception, the Ravens – literally – flocked to mid-field and commenced a dance of their own. People scoff at the idea that “bulletin board” material doesn’t really impact games but the Ravens definitely remembered and had something to prove.
This win also marks the first playoff victory for last year’s MVP Lamar Jackson. Getting that knock off his record has to be a huge relief. Now, they’ll be heading to Orchard Park to play the Buffalo Bills this Saturday, 8:15pm kickoff.
Lamar gets his first career playoff win as he leads Baltimore over the Titans. pic.twitter.com/U7HNbhIbPJ
— ESPN (@espn) January 10, 2021
The capper to a great playoff weekend was the third meeting between these division rivals – and the second week in a row that the Browns beat the Steelers. This isn’t something that’s ever happened in my lifetime so it’s kind of a huge deal. Clearly the underdog, the Browns came out with fire and their defense, which has struggled lately, make some huge plays in the first quarter that gave them a 28-0 lead. While the Steelers battled back, the Browns did just enough to keep the game out of reach and seal the victory.
As unbelievable as it sounds, the Steelers actually had a snap go over QB Ben Roethlisberger’s head on their first possession that was recovered by the Browns for a touchdown. On their next possession, Browns cornerback M.J. Stewart Jr., filling in for CB Denzel Ward who was out due to Covid-19, intercepted the ball which led to a three-play touchdown drive to tight end Austin Hooper. And it was on from there.
Obviously there was a ton of sadness in the Pittsburgh locker room after the game, most notably from Roethlisberger. It was a really tough loss in what may have been his last game in the NFL and at Heinz Field. When asked what the future would bring, he seemed uncertain if the Steelers would want him back or where he would go from here. I guess he has the entire offseason now to make decisions.
As for the Browns, well, I guess they proved that the comment from wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster isn’t true: these are not the “Same Old Browns.” They move on in the playoffs and will head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday in the divisional round with a 3:05pm kickoff.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 11, 2021
Follow Kate on Twitter // @ClvlndK8