The Cleveland Browns ended the NFL’s longest playoff drought as they held off the Pittsburgh Steelers in dramatic fashion to secure postseason football.
Needing a win to book their first playoff appearance since 2002, the Browns triumphed 24-22 in the final game of their regular season.
Joining the Browns in the playoffs are the Baltimore Ravens, who thrashed the Cincinnati Bengals 38-3 to take another of the seven available postseason spots on Sunday.
The Miami Dolphins’ hopes took a blow as they succumbed to a heavy defeat to AFC East winners Buffalo Bills, while the Dallas Cowboys fell short at the final hurdle with a loss at the New York Giants, who need a favour from the Philadelphia Eagles.
BROWNS END 18-YEAR WAIT
After 17 seasons of being on the outside looking in, the Browns are into the playoffs thanks to a nerve-wracking victory over the Steelers enough to end a dismal run.
Cleveland had to shut down its practice facility four times over the course of the last eight days due to COVID-19 concerns but, inspired by Baker Mayfield, the Browns made it through.
Mayfield threw for 196 yards and one touchdown but led some decisive drives and sealed the victory with a first-down run at the death after Mason Rudolph had missed a two-point attempt that would have tied the game.
The Browns finish the regular season 11-5 – it is their best record since 1994, when Bill Belichick led them to their last win in a playoff game.
Pittsburgh ultimately ended Cleveland’s hopes that season, and the Steelers will be the Browns’ first opponents in the playoffs next week.
In another twist of fate, the Browns’ only playoff appearance this century also came in Pittsburgh, where they lost 36-33.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) January 3, 2021
JACKSON-INSPIRED RAVENS SOAR AND GIANTS ON THE BRINK
Lamar Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to top 1,000 rushing yards in successive seasons as he helped the Ravens to a massive, playoff-clinching win over the Bengals.
More records tumbled for the 2019 MVP, as the 23-year-old became the first QB to throw 46 red-zone touchdowns without an interception and takes the crown for the fastest QB to amass 30 wins.
Jackson, a former first-round pick, rushed for 97 yards on Week 17, as Baltimore won a fifth straight game with ease.
The Raves will now face the winner of the AFC South – either the Tennessee Titans or the Indianapolis Colts.
Meanwhile, the Giants will be rooting for the Eagles to overcome the Washington Football Team later on Sunday after their win over the Cowboys put them on the brink of the postseason.
Should Philly win, the Giants will clinch the NFC East title, though a Washington win would send Ron Rivera’s team through.
Now we wait… pic.twitter.com/QcjfTYxF8c
— New York Giants (@Giants) January 3, 2021
DOLPHINS SINK, BRADY’S BUCS CAP OFF REGULAR SEASON IN STYLE
The Dolphins’ playoff chances are slim after a 56-26 defeat to the Bills, as Josh Allen and Isaiah McKenzie – who ran in three touchdowns – blew them away in Buffalo.
Allen, who is in a race for the league’s MVP award, threw 224 passing yards for three touchdowns on Sunday.
The third-year QB holds single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,544), touchdowns (37) and completions (396).
Miami must now rely on the Jacksonville Jaguars to pull off an unlikely win over the Indianapolis Colts to claim a playoff berth.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished a brilliant regular season with a 44-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
On his record-setting 299th start in the NFL, Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, as the six-time Super Bowl champion finished with a Tampa Bay single-season record 40.
Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino are the only players other than Brady with multiple seasons of at least 40 touchdown passes.
Brady also picked out three-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans with a pass, who once again reached 1,000 receiving yards in a season for Tampa, though he then suffered a game-ending knee injury.
“When we first met, that’s really what we talked about… what he could do with the players we have. Adding Robbie Gronkowski to the mix just helped.”
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) January 3, 2021
JEFFERSON INTO THE RECORD BOOKS
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson set a new Super Bowl-era record as he surpassed Anquan Boldin for the rookie with the most receiving yards in a season.
He is now second all-time behind Bill Groman, who holds a rookie record of 1,473 receiving yards, which he set in 1960.
Jefferson also set a Vikings franchise rookie record when he caught a 15-yard pass in the third quarter of a 37-35 win over the Detroit Lions, who will finish no lower than seventh in the current draft order.
Week 17 results (part one)
Baltimore Ravens 38-3 Cincinnati Bengals
Buffalo Bills 56-26 Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns 24-22 Pittsburgh Steelers
Minnesota Vikings 37-35 Detroit Lions
New England Patriots 28-14 New York Jets
New York Giants 23-19 Dallas Cowboys
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-27 Atlanta Falcons