Nick Chubb rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown, and the Cleveland Browns clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2002 with a 24-22 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
The Browns (11-5) snapped the NFL’s longest current playoff drought. They will be the No. 6 seed in the AFC.
Pittsburgh (12-4), which clinched the AFC North and a playoff spot in Week 16, will be the No. 3 seed in the AFC. The Steelers will host the Browns in a rematch next weekend in the wild-card round.
The win was just the second for the Browns in their last 12 meetings against their division rival, and only the eighth versus the Steelers since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999. The Browns won the regular-season finale for the first time since 2009.
Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield completed 17 of 27 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for a season-high 44 yards. Chubb, who had 14 carries, notched a second-straight 1,000-yard rushing season.
Mason Rudolph completed 22 of 39 passes for 315 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for Pittsburgh. Chase Claypool had five receptions for 101 yards and a score, and Diontae Johnson added three catches for 96 yards.
Cleveland held a 10-9 lead midway through the third quarter before pulling away. Mayfield completed four straight passes, and scrambled for 28 yards, on a key 76-yard scoring drive, capping the march with a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper with 3:48 left in the third.
Rudolph, under pressure, was picked off by M.J. Stewart Jr. on the Steelers’ next possession. Four plays later, Jarvis Landry scored on a 3-yard end-around to give the Browns a 24-9 lead.
Pittsburgh closed to within 24-16 on a 28-yard touchdown catch from Claypool, on fourth-and-10, with 10:07 left. The Steelers then came within a two-point conversion of tying it. Rudolph fit in a 2-yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 1:23 to go to make it 24-22, but the ensuing conversion pass sailed over Claypool.
The Browns recovered the following onside kick and ran out the clock with three straight running plays.
Both teams played with rosters impacted by injury, COVID-19 absences and — for the Steelers – rest concerns. Pittsburgh was without nine players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (rest), outside linebacker T.J. Watt (rest), corner Joe Haden (reserve/COVID-19), tight end Eric Ebron (reserve/COVID-19) and kicker Chris Boswell (groin).
The Browns closed their facility three times during the week due to COVID-19 issues. They played without six regulars — including five rotational defensive players — and three assistant coaches.
Cleveland led 10-6 at the half thanks to a quick start. Chubb capped the Browns’ first possession with a 47-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 9:29 left in the first quarter. Cleveland led 10-0 after Cody Parkey hit a 23-yard field goal with 9:45 left in the half.
Pittsburgh got on track late in the half with field goals of 29 and 46 yards from kicker Matthew Wright. He added a 46-yard field goal in the third quarter.