Jan 17, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) is brought down by Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Mack Wilson (51) during the second half in the AFC Divisional Round playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mahomes would suffer an injury on the play.  Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs lose Mahomes, defeat Browns to reach AFC title game

Backup quarterback Chad Henne gained 13 yards on a scramble, then threw a stunning fourth-and-inches completion to Tyreek Hill with less than two minutes remaining on Sunday as the host Kansas City Chiefs finished off the Cleveland Browns 22-17 to reach the AFC Championship Game.

Henne replaced Patrick Mahomes, who appeared to come away with a head injury at the 7:47 mark of the third quarter after he was tackled by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson on an option keeper.

Mahomes, who will have to go through concussion protocol to determine his availability for the AFC title game, passed for 255 yards and one touchdown.

The defending Super Bowl champions became the first AFC team to play host to a conference championship for a third consecutive season. They will face the Buffalo Bills, a team Kansas City defeated 26-17 on Oct. 19.

Henne was intercepted by Cleveland’s Karl Joseph in the end zone with 8:10 remaining but the Browns’ drive to potentially take the lead stalled and they were forced to punt. The Chiefs then ran out the final 4:09.

Hill and Travis Kelce each had eight receptions for 110 and 109 yards, respectively. Darrel Williams, in his first NFL start, added 78 yards on 13 carries and had four receptions.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield passed for 204 yards and one touchdown. Cleveland running back Nick Chubb added 69 yards rushing.

The Chiefs scored on each of their four first-half possessions while generating 293 yards to build a 19-3 halftime margin.

Mahomes, who completed 19 of 25 passes for 233 first-half yards, rushed for a 1-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the game and hit Kelce for a 20-yard score early in the second quarter. Harrison Butker kicked field goals of 50 and 28 yards in the second quarter after missing his first PAT attempt.

Cody Parkey booted a 46-yard field goal to cap the Browns’ first drive, but a costly fumble at the goal line by Rashard Higgins kept them from scoring a touchdown late in the first half.

Higgins caught a pass along the sideline from Mayfield and stretched the ball to the front of the end zone, but the Chiefs’ Daniel Sorensen caused the fumble that rolled outside of the end zone for a touchback.

Kansas City took over with 1:34 left and Mahomes drove the Chiefs 70 yards for Butker’s chip shot with 2 seconds left.

–Field Level Media

Dec 27, 2020; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) runs the ball against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Well-rested Chiefs host upset-minded Browns

Time off for Patrick Mahomes has not equated to time away from football.

He practiced for the Kansas City Chiefs. He cheered teammates on while sitting out the last regular-season game. And then last week, with the bye that goes to the top seed in the AFC playoffs, Mahomes scouted opponents.

He will rely on what he learned about the Cleveland Browns, who will be coming off an explosive 48-37 upset of Pittsburgh in the wild-card round, which elevated them into the divisional round Sunday at Kansas City, Mo.

“I had a day’s worth of film on the Browns,” said Mahomes, “so whenever we found that out, I was able to look back at that and look at my notes and see how it presents to us.”

Despite sitting out the Jan. 3 setback to the Los Angeles Chargers, Mahomes helped engineer a 14-2 season for Kansas City while passing for 4,740 yards and 38 touchdowns. He will square off against Baker Mayfield as they reprise their old Big 12 shootouts.

“To be able to play against him on this stage is going to be special,” Mahomes said. “I mean, he went to Oklahoma, I went to Texas Tech, so he got the better of me in college, so I’ll try to do my best to win in the NFL.”

Mahomes knows he has the weapons to accomplish that feat, especially after the Chiefs scored at least 31 points in each of their postseason wins a year ago. Travis Kelce, who set an NFL record for tight ends with 1,416 receiving yards, also sat out the defeat against the Chargers, which snapped a 10-game Chiefs’ winning streak.

“Everybody kind of locks in a little bit more and gets excited to play when the playoffs come around, especially in this building, especially (Mahomes) himself,” Kelce said.

The same could be said of the Browns after claiming their first playoff win since 1994.

Cleveland should regain several players off the reserve/COVID-19 list — Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio was removed Friday — while coach Kevin Stefanski returned to practice on Thursday after his own stint with the virus.

“We’re looking forward to getting a full complement of guys,” Stefanski said. “Anytime you get good players back, whether it be injury or COVID list, it’s always a big boost for your entire team.”

Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson have been activated and will provide depth to a secondary that grabbed four interceptions against Pittsburgh. Receiver KhaDarel Hodge was also taken off coronavirus protocols.

Mayfield will again look to execute a balanced attack, which also features the rushing tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Hunt will have some additional motivation playing against the Chiefs. They cut Hunt during the 2018 season after video surfaced of him kicking a woman. Kansas City selected Hunt in the third round of the 2017 draft. He then led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards as a rookie.

Another Browns connection who can point to his time with the Chiefs is general manager John Dorsey, who was around when Andy Reid took over as Kansas City coach and traded up to take Mahomes in the 2017 draft after already drafting the likes of Kelce and Tyreek Hill.

Dorsey was eventually fired by the Browns in late 2019.

“He did a nice job here and there of bringing the right people in,” Reid said.

The Chiefs ruled out receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) and linebacker Willie Gay (ankle) on Friday. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) was listed as questionable.

The Browns listed four players as questionable: offensive tackle Jack Conklin (hamstring/knee), linebacker B.J. Goodson (shoulder), and tight ends David Njoku (hamstring) and Stephen Carlson (groin).

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end Harrison Bryant (88) warms up before the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Browns activate three from COVID-19 list

The Cleveland Browns activated three players from the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday, making them available for Sunday night’s wild-card game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

Activated were tight end Harrison Bryant, safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. and linebacker Malcolm Smith. In addition, safety Jovante Moffatt will be able to play after the league determined he was not a close contact with someone who had tested positive, the team said.

The Browns also elevated wide receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley, tackle Alex Taylor and cornerback A.J. Green from the practice squad on Saturday. Green was designated as a COVID-19 replacement.

ESPN reported that the Browns got the OK to hold a walkthrough on Saturday before their flight to Pittsburgh. That’s good news for the Browns, who were limited to just one short practice on Friday after at least five positive COVID-19 tests.

Among those testing positive were head coach Kevin Stefanski, who will miss the game. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will be the acting head coach and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the plays against the Steelers.

Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio tested positive for the virus and won’t travel to Pittsburgh. Other players on the reserve/COVID-19 list include quarterback Denzel Ward and receiver KhaDarel Hodge.

–Field Level Media

Oct 18, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski looks at his play chart a during the second quarter gainst the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Browns’ facility remains closed pending test results

The Cleveland Browns’ training facility remained closed Wednesday pending additional COVID-19 test results.

The team announced Tuesday that head coach Kevin Stefanski and four others members of the organization had tested positive, making them unavailable for Sunday night’s wild-card game at Pittsburgh.

As the Browns prepare virtually for the Steelers, ESPN said the team is awaiting the results of additional testing done on potential high-risk close contacts of Stefanski, tight ends coach Drew Petzing, defensive backs coach Jeff Howard, Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge.

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as the acting head coach Sunday and multiple outlets reported that offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the plays in lieu of Stefanski.

The Browns closed their facility on three separate days last week after learning of positive tests for COVID-19.

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Robert Jackson (34) knocks Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) out of bounds during the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Browns edge Steelers, cliinch first playoff berth since 2002

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, 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 and 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 another 46-yard field goal in the third quarter.

–Field Level Media

Aug 19, 2020; Berea, Ohio, USA;  Cleveland Browns cornerback Kevin Johnson (28) prepares to tackle wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge (12) during training camp at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Browns place CB Johnson on reserve/COVID list

The Cleveland Browns placed defensive back Kevin Johnson on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday, meaning he won’t play in the team’s crucial game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

Johnson was slated to start in place of Denzel Ward after Ward was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week.

Johnson is among six Browns who will be out on Sunday due to COVID-19, joining Ward, linebackers B.J. Goodson and Malcolm Smith, safety Andrew Sendejo and tight end Harrison Bryant.

The Browns (10-5) clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Steelers (12-3). They would also clinch a spot with a Colts loss, or a Titans loss plus wins/ties from the Dolphins and Ravens.

Johnson, who has 35 tackles and a forced fumble this season, will likely be replaced by rookie A.J. Green, who the Browns promoted from the practice squad Saturday.

Green appeared in one game this season, a Week 3 win over the Washington Football Team.

–Field Level Media