Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi celebrates their playoff berth.

The Cleveland Browns are going to the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 NFL season (when they suffered a 36-33 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round), but the Steelers almost managed to keep them out again. Heading into Sunday, the 10-5 Browns could clinch the sixth spot in the AFC with a win; they might still have made it with help with a loss, but that was far from certain. And while Cleveland looked in very good shape at the start of the fourth quarter, their eventual 24-22 victory (which defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi is seen celebrating above) carried a lot of tense moments late.

With just over 10 minutes left, the Steelers (who had already clinched the AFC North title) were trailing 24-9 and facing fourth and 10 at the Cleveland 28. But Mason Rudolph somehow found a tightly-covered Chase Claypool in the end zone:

After the extra point, the Cleveland lead was down to eight points. But the Browns had a chance to make it a two-possession game, driving down to the Pittsburgh 31, where they faced third and three. A field goal from there might have worked. Instead, Baker Mayfield was sacked for a loss of four on third down. That led to the Browns going for it on fourth and seven, and Mayfield’s pass for Rashard Higgins fell incomplete.

Following that, the Steelers pulled off an impressive drive of their own. Starting at his own 35 with just 3:37 on the clock, Rudolph drove the Pittsburgh offense 65 yards in just over two minutes. That drive included a 47-yard pass to Diontae Johnson and a two-yard touchdown pass to Juju Smith-Schuster:

However, Rudolph’s pass for Claypool on the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete, with cornerback Robert Jackson in tight coverage on him. Rudolph appealed for a flag, but none was forthcoming.

After that, the Steelers tried an onside kick, but the Browns recovered. An eight-yard run from Nick Chubb set them up in second and two, needing only a first down to win, and while Chubb was stuffed on second down, Mayfield ran for three yards on third to clinch the win and the playoff berth. But Pittsburgh didn’t make this easy at all down the stretch.

And now these teams will meet again in the wild-card round next week. The Steelers won the first 2020-21 meeting between the sides 38-7 at home in October, but the Browns’ 24-22 victory here wound up crucial for their playoff berth. We’ll see who wins round three.

[NFL.com; photo from Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.