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Could Browns Finally Be Exorcising Demons?

The Cleveland Browns won their first playoff game since 1995 last Sunday when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 48-37, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. AP photo

Forgive me if it’s taken me a few days to collect my thoughts from Sunday night.

I’m in the same boat as most Cleveland Browns fans. We’re still in disbelief.

We embarrassed the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In Pittsburgh.

On national TV.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and defensive end Myles Garrett (95) celebrate after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. AP photo

In a playoff game.

It’s taken two decades, but is it possible the Browns have finally turned a corner?

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I’ll admit, even as the Browns went up 28-0 in the first quarter, I was never comfortable.

Cleveland scored four touchdowns in 15 minutes of game time so surely the Steelers and veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has given the Browns fits over the years, could do the same with three quarters remaining.

We were shocked in the opening 14 seconds when Karl Joseph recovered a terrible Maurkice Pouncey snap in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

That was the fastest 7-0 lead for the Browns since Richard Alston returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown Nov. 7, 2004, during a Sunday Night Football game against the Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately, the Browns lost that game when Ed Reed returned an interception 106 yards for a touchdown with 26 seconds remaining.

Five minutes after the early touchdown Sunday, wide receiver Jarvis Landy caught a third-down pass from Baker Mayfield and raced 40 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

Forgive us Browns fans for enjoying good wide receiver play. We haven’t exactly seen a lot of it over the past two decades. From disappointing first-round picks like Braylon Edwards and Corey Coleman to underperforming free agents like Dwayne Bowe and Miles Austin, we’ve experienced it all.

On Sunday night, Cleveland took a 28-0 lead on back-to-back touchdown runs from Kareem Hunt.

The Elyria, Ohio-born Hunt, who grew up a Browns fan and has navigated his way through a fair share of off-the-field trouble early in his career, has been a luxury for the Browns behind No. 1 back Nick Chubb.

Hunt’s runs were largely the result of strong offensive line play, something — outside of left tackle Joe Thomas — the Browns have experienced little of over the years. The most publicized recent Browns lineman may have been Orlando Brown, who was accidentally hit in the eye by a penalty flag during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1999. Brown missed three seasons due to temporary blindness and eventually sued the NFL for damages.

Tight end Austin Hooper’s 7-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield helped the Browns take a 35-10 lead into halftime.

The league’s highest-paid tight end, Hooper is one of Cleveland’s best tight ends since coming back into the league in 1999. Their most controversial in that time? Kellen Winslow Jr. The sixth overall pick in 2004, Winslow experienced varying levels of success and suffered multiple injuries during his time with the Browns and was traded just over a year after becoming a Pro Bowl player in 2007.

With the Steelers mounting a third-quarter comeback, Chubb caught a second-down screen pass from Mayfield and scampered 40 yards for a touchdown.

Competent running back play hasn’t always been a feature of the Browns. Twice since the 1999, the Browns spent first-round picks on the position and neither player lasted on the roster more than four years. Boston College product William Green averaged less than 600 yards per season for the franchise from 2002-05 and Alabama’s Trent Richardson lasted just two games into his second season with the Browns before he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts.

Pittsburgh made it 42-29 early in the fourth quarter, but kicker Cody Parkey was able to keep the Steelers at bay with back-to-back field goals down the stretch. Parkey, who has had an up-and-down season for the Browns, made all six of his PATs and both of his field goals Sunday night.

Browns fans were waiting for Parkey to screw something up, which would’ve been nothing new. In 2015, rookie kicker Travis Coons made the first 18 field-goal attempts of his career, but during a Monday Night Football game against the Ravens, disaster struck. With three seconds left and the score tied at 27, Coons’ 51-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Brent Urban and returned 64 yards by Will Hill for the game-winning touchdown.

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Despite Jamestown High School graduate Stephen Carlson’s onside kick recovery with 1:09 remaining, Browns fans have learned to not celebrate until the clock reads 0:00.

Even that doesn’t always signal the end of a game.

One of the better linebackers they’ve had since their 1999 return was Dwayne Rudd, but his most memorable play for Cleveland also led to a loss. With two seconds remaining in the 2002 season opener, on a second-and-10 from the Chiefs’ 47-yard line, Trent Green was nearly sacked, but fumbled the ball to lineman John Tait, who rumbled 28 yards. Thinking the play — and game — were over, Rudd ripped off his helmet and threw it in celebration resulting in a penalty. The Chiefs were awarded an untimed down from the 12-yard line and Morten Anderson made a game-winning 30-yard field goal.

In 2001, a loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars was deemed final with 48 seconds remaining after fans threw debris onto the field after a dubious ruling by officials.

And in 2009, the Browns led the Detroit Lions, 37-31, with eight seconds left before a pass interference call on Cleveland’s Hank Poteat prolonged the game with no time on the clock. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was injured on the play, but the Browns called a pair of timeouts, allowing Stafford to re-enter for backup quarterback Daunte Culpepper just in time to throw a game-tying touchdown to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The Lions won on Jason Hanson’s PAT.

Sure, at any moment one of these current Cleveland Browns could turn in a career-altering play and end up in the annals of franchise history, but maybe, just maybe, this team is finally exorcising its demons from the past two decades.

They’ll get another opportunity to do just that Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.

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