The Browns have made an incredible transformation since that disastrous season three years ago when they had a season without any wins.
To say that 2020 and 2021 have been crazy and unpredictable would be an understatement. So in two of the most unpredictable, upside-down years, it only makes sense that the Cleveland Browns, who went 0-16 in the 2017-2018 NFL season, entered the playoffs this season after clinching a wild card spot. The Browns have made an incredible transformation since that disastrous season three years ago, and have turned into a team that has become a strong contender both in the AFC North and the NFL in general, due in part to acquired players, a whole new coaching staff, and capitalizing on offensive opportunities.
Baker Mayfield’s Impact
Baker Mayfield was the Browns’ first overall draft pick in the 2018 season and one from which they would reap many benefits. Mayfield got off to an explosive, record-breaking start, and once he broke the Browns’ 19-game losing streak in his very first professional appearance, it became clear that he was going to be a shining light for the struggling team. By the end of the season, the Browns almost had a winning record, and Mayfield was widely considered one of the best offensive players in the entire league.
Rarely do things turn around in an instant for sports teams, and it took the Browns a couple of seasons to get back on their feet. They continued to struggle in the 2019 season, winning only six games, but still, six more than they won in 2017. Thanks to Baker Mayfield and his offensive talent, which included surpassing the rookie-season touchdown record of 26, the Browns began to be considered real competition again.
The 2020 Season
The 2020 NFL season was unlike any other, with mostly empty stadiums and constant reports of who had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be unable to play. Some teams struggled, but the Browns took advantage of all opportunities. To start off the season, several major coaching and faculty changes were made. Both the general manager and the head coach of the Browns were replaced, the general manager becoming Andrew Berry, and Kevin Stefanski filling the head coaching position. Additionally, the team hired a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator.
Sometimes, changes like those can make all the difference, and in this case, they did. The combination of a coaching change, Baker Mayfield’s continued improvement and offensive impact, and even the mistakes of other teams helped the Browns achieve their first winning season since 2007, with a record of 11-5. A winning season was hard enough to believe, and a great accomplishment for the Browns, but as it turned out, that was just the start of their success.
Wild Card Match Against the Steelers
To the shock of many, the Browns clinched a wild card spot in the playoffs, their first berth to the postseason in eighteen years. The Browns were set up against their AFC rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in their wild card match, and the game quickly got off to one of the most exciting and explosive starts in history. Within the first fourteen seconds of the first quarter, taking advantage of a lackluster snap by the Steelers, the Browns scored their first touchdown. They would go on to score twenty-eight unanswered points before the Steelers finally got a touchdown in the second quarter, but the Browns still came away with the victory, their first playoff win since 1994.
Unfortunately for the Browns and their fans, they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round. However, Kansas City is a hard team to beat, and five points were all that kept the Browns from defeating the reigning Super Bowl champions. Even with the loss, it must be acknowledged that the Browns accomplished something big this year. The Browns’ playoff run set many new records and precedents for the team, but even more important, it sparked hope in a team that seemed hopeless just a few years ago.
As fans and players often say, they aren’t the same old Browns, and this season was a perfect example of how true that statement is becoming. This team was once seen as the laughingstock of the NFL, but their 2020 playoff run may very well have put that portrayal to rest for good.