Cleveland running back Nick Chubb is hugged by D’Ernest Johnson after a 47-yard touchdown run Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns secured a spot in the AFC playoffs with a 24-22 win. Ron Schwane/Associated Press

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns are back in the playoffs, qualifying for the first time since 2002 on Sunday by surviving a late Pittsburgh rally for a 24-22 win over the Steelers, who rested quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and several other starters.

The Browns (11-5) nearly blew a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, but stopped Pittsburgh’s 2-point conversion attempt and then recovered an onside kick with 1:22 left.

A week of COVID-19 disruptions concluded in celebration as the Browns ended what had been the NFL’s longest postseason drought. Their reward: Another game against the AFC North champion Steelers, in Pittsburgh next weekend.

Nick Chubb had a touchdown run, Baker Mayfield threw a TD pass and the Browns hung on as Mason Rudolph rallied the Steelers (12-4), who had the luxury of sitting their best players after clinching the division last week.

Instead of Roethlisberger, who is 23-2-1 in his career against the Browns, Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin started Rudolph in the regular-season finale. Big Ben will get a shot at the Browns next week.

Rudolph’s 2-yard TD pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 1:23 left pulled the Steelers within 24-22. But Rudolph badly overthrew rookie Chase Claypool on the 2-point attempt, and Browns tight end Stephen Carlson then fell on the ensuing kick under a pile of bodies.

Before the scoreboard clock in FirstEnergy Stadium ran off its final seconds, most of the 12,000 fans – there were some Terrible Towel wavers – cheered wildly and Browns players danced onto the field.

The win completes a grueling turnaround for the Browns and their passionate fan base, which endured nearly two decades of dysfunction since the team’s last playoff visit – 197 losses, 14 double-digit-loss seasons and seven coaches ago.

But in his first year, Coach Kevin Stefanski has not only navigated the Browns through COVID-19 issues, he has them back in the playoffs.

“I am really just happy for our fans,” said first-year coach Kevin Stefanski. “They deserve this. They have been waiting for this and we are happy to deliver that to them.”

Stefanski and the Browns barely practiced this week because of COVID-19 positive tests and protocols and went into their most important game in years without six players, including top cornerback Denzel Ward, and three assistant coaches.

Along with Roethlisberger, Steelers defensive star T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey didn’t make the trip to Cleveland. The Steelers were also missing cornerback Joe Haden, who tested positive for COVID-19 and may have to miss the playoff game.

WASHINGTON 20, EAGLES 14: Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes, and Washington (7-9) won the NFC East with a victory at Philadelphia (4-11-1).

Washington became the first team in the Super Bowl era to reach the playoffs following a 2-7 start and is just the third team to win a division title with a losing record during a full 16-game season. Seattle (2010) and Carolina (2014) previously did it, and each won a playoff game.

GIANTS 23, COWBOYS 19: Rookie Xavier McKinney intercepted a pass in the end zone with 1:15 remaining as New York (6-10) temporarily kept its playoff hopes alive with a win over visiting Dallas (6-10), before being eliminated by Washington’s victory.

RAVENS 38, BENGALS 3: Baltimore (11-5) used a club-record 404 yards rushing to clinch a playoff spot with a win at Cincinnati (4-11-1), and Lamar Jackson threw three touchdown passes while becoming the first NFL quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons.

The Ravens rolled up 525 total yards, and the 404 rushing yards were the most surrendered by a Bengals defense. Rookie J.K. Dobbins rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns, including a 72-yard scoring romp in the third quarter.

Baltimore won its fifth straight game and advanced to the postseason for a third consecutive season.

Jackson rushed for 97 yards and threw for 113 before taking a seat in the third quarter. He has run or passed for at least one touchdown in 36 straight starts, the longest active streak in the NFL.

BILLS 56, DOLPHINS 26: Josh Allen and Buffalo (13-3) placed an emphatic stamp on their breakout season and prevented visiting Miami (10-6) from making the playoffs.

Allen threw three touchdown passes and Isaiah McKenzie scored three times, including an 84-yard punt return. Buffalo blew the game open by scoring on four consecutive second-quarter possessions.

The Bills clinched the AFC’s No. 2 seed and matched their single-season record for wins, set in both 1990 and ’91.

BUCCANEERS 44, FALCONS 27: Tom Brady threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns, helping Tampa Bay (11-5) clinch the fifth seed in the NFC with a win over visiting Atlanta (4-12).

The win means the Bucs (11-5) will face the NFC East champion, Washington or the Giants, on the road in the club’s first postseason game in 13 years. But it may have come with a steep cost, because star receiver Mike Evans was carted to the locker room with a left knee injury late in the first quarter and did not return.

PACKERS 35, BEARS 16: Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns, breaking his franchise record for scoring passes in a season, and Green Bay (13-3) clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win at Chicago (8-8), which is also headed to the playoffs as the No. 7 seed.

Rodgers joined Peyton Manning (2004 and 2013) as the only players to throw for at least 45 touchdowns in multiple seasons. He now has 48, surpassing his high of 45 in his first MVP season of 2011.

TITANS 41, TEXANS 38: Derrick Henry surpassed 2,000 yards rushing for the season by compiling a career-high 250 yards, and Sam Sloman’s 37-yard field goal on the final play was good despite bouncing off the right upright as Tennessee (11-5) won the AFC South with a victory at Houston (4-12).

Sloman’s winner was set up by a 52-yard reception by A.J. Brown, moments after Houston tied it with a 51-yard field goal with 18 seconds left.

Henry finished the regular season with a franchise-record 2,027 yards. He’s the eighth player in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards.

COLTS 28, JAGUARS 14: Jonathan Taylor rushed for a franchise-record 253 yards and two touchdowns, including a clinching 45-yard run with 3:35 to go, and Indianapolis (11-5) beat visiting Jacksonville (1-15) to secure a playoff spot.

RAMS 18, CARDINALS 7: John Wolford passed for 231 yards and rushed for 56 more in his NFL debut, and Los Angeles (10-6) clinched a playoff berth while eliminating visiting Arizona (8-8).

Troy Hill returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown and the Rams’ defense also recorded a safety in a dominant performance.

SAINTS 33, PANTHERS 7: Drew Brees threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns, and visiting New Orleans (12-4) had five interceptions to beat Carolina (5-11) and wrap up the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

The Saints will host the seventh-seeded Chicago Bears in the wild-card round next weekend.

Ty Montgomery ran for 105 yards on 18 carries for the Saints, who became the first team to sweep the NFC South by going 6-0 since the division was formed in 2002.

SEAHAWKS 26, 49ERS 23: Russell Wilson connected on two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett and Seattle (12-4) rallied to beat San Francisco (6-10) in Glendale, Arizona.

VIKINGS 37, LIONS 35: Kirk Cousins threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns, lifting Minnesota (7-9) to a win at Detroit (5-11).

CHARGERS 38, CHIEFS 21: Justin Herbert threw for 302 yards and accounted for four touchdowns for visiting Los Angeles (7-9) against a team of mostly backups for Kansas City (14-2).

RAIDERS 32, BRONCOS 31: Darren Waller caught Derek Carr’s 2-point conversion pass with 24 seconds following a 1-yard touchdown run by Josh Jacobs, and Las Vegas (8-8) rallied for a win at Denver (5-11) despite committing four turnovers.

The Broncos reached the Las Vegas 45 with 9 seconds left, Brandon McManus’ 63-yard field-goal try was blocked by Maxx Crosby, who also blocked McManus’ record 70-yard attempt on the last play of the first half.


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