Browns eliminated from playoff contention with two games left in 2021 season
Kevin Stefanski tried to warn his players about this in April.
When the Browns were eliminated from the playoffs on Jan. 17 with a 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round, some of team's leaders declared, “We will be back.”
But when the Browns began their voluntary offseason program with virtual meetings on April 19, Stefanski pumped the brakes.
“Kevin [reminded the players from 2017-19 roughly] half the teams that went to the playoffs the previous year didn’t make it the next year,” Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said April 27.
Alas, the Browns (7-8) will not qualify for the playoffs this season. They took a trip to the playoffs last season in Stefanski's first year as a head coach.
The Browns were officially eliminated from postseason contention Sunday on the eve of their “Monday Night Football” game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1) at Heinz Field.
It's a huge disappointment for a franchise that entered the season with Super Bowl expectations, believing continuity among the coaching staff and players on offense combined with a revamped defense would make it a legitimate contender. Last season, the team went 12-6, including 1-1 in the playoffs. It earned a playoff berth for the first time since 2002 and captured its first postseason victory since Jan. 1, 1995.
The Browns apparently could have used more pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day, though, because they weren't lucky enough to receive the help they needed Sunday.
To control their own destiny in the quest for their first AFC North title and first division championship since 1989, the Browns needed the Cincinnati Bengals to lose to the Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens to fall to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
However, the Browns had only one of those games go their way.
The Bengals (10-6) won the AFC North by upsetting the Chiefs 34-31 at Paul Brown Stadium. In a wild finish, Evan McPherson made a 20-yard field goal to lift the Bengals over the Chiefs (11-5) with time expired.
A bit earlier, the Ravens (8-8) lost 20-19 to the Rams (12-4) at M&T Bank Stadium, with backup quarterback Tyler Huntley starting in place of Baltimore star Lamar Jackson, who was inactive for the third consecutive game with an ankle injury suffered Dec. 12 in a 24-22 loss to the Browns in Cleveland.
Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. helped the Browns after forcing his way out of Cleveland in early November. He caught a 5-yard pass for a first down on fourth-and-5 from the Ravens 12-yard line, then a 7-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford on the next play to give the Rams a one-point lead with 57 seconds left to play.
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But the Bengals closed the door on a division title, which had been the Browns' most realistic path to the playoffs by far.
On Sunday night, the Browns' hopes for a miraculous wild-card berth were dashed when the Denver Broncos (7-9) were defeated 34-13 by the Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) at SoFi Stadium.
An NFL spokesperson confirmed the Broncos' loss mathematically eliminated the Browns from earning a playoff appearance.
Now the Browns have nothing to play for against the Steelers except for pride and back-to-back winning records for the first time since they finished above .500 in every season from 1986-89.
Still, the Browns should expect the Steelers to be fired up. After all, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Thursday “all signs are pointing” to Monday likely being his final game in Pittsburgh. The Steelers also need to win to stay alive in the hunt for a wild-card spot.
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Roethlisberger is 24-3-1 as a starter against the Browns, including 0-1 in the playoffs. The last time the Browns played at Heinz Field, they earned their first postseason victory in 26 seasons, triumphing 48-37 on Jan. 10 in a wild-card game.
The Steelers prevailed 15-10 on Oct. 31 in Cleveland.
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The Browns announced Sunday evening linebacker Mack Wilson didn't make the trip to Pittsburgh because he's tending to a personal matter.
Wilson was ruled out for Monday night. He has started five of the 13 games in which he's appeared this season and compiled 32 tackles.
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Cleveland Browns make roster moves before facing Steelers
The Browns announced Monday afternoon they elevated safety Adrian Colbert and guard Hjalte Froholdt from the practice squad to the active roster.
The Browns also placed tight end Miller Forristall (hamstring) on the practice squad/injured list.
Cleveland Browns notes: Safeties John Johnson III, Ronnie Harrison Jr., nickelback Troy Hill ruled out vs. Steelers
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Wins by Bengals, Chargers eliminate Browns from playoff contention