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In The Land: Browns Haven't Been the Same Since Back-to-Back Arrowhead Stadium Losses to Chiefs

Photo: Orlin Wagner / AP

Before January 10th, 2021, the Cleveland Browns hadn’t won a postseason game since they defeated the New England Patriots on New Year’s Day in 1995. They hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2002. But on January 10th, 2021 in Pittsburgh at what is formerly known as Heinz Field (now known as Acrisure Stadium), the Browns won their first playoff game in 26 years as they defeated their nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers, 48-37 in the AFC Wildcard.

With the win, the Browns, led by first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski (who won Coach of the Year), would make a trip to Arrowhead Stadium to face Andy Reid, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round.

Since the game was in Arrowhead and Kansas City had such a potent offense, it seemed like a longshot for the Browns to pull off another road playoff victory. Personally, I thought there was almost no chance for the Browns to leave Missouri with the win. I thought the Chiefs' offense had too much firepower for the Browns to overcome.

Despite Mahomes having to exit the game midway through the third quarter due to a concussion, the Browns were unable to take advantage (thanks in part to what is affectionately known as “Ref Ball”), as the Chiefs escaped with a 22-17 victory.

As a result of how the playoff game went down, the NFL took advantage of the situation and scheduled the Browns and Chiefs to meet at the scene of the “Ref Ball” crime to kick off the 2021 campaign. The Browns jumped out to a 22-10 halftime lead, but in classic Chiefs fashion, Mahomes led KC to a 33-29 come-from-behind victory. Following a nine-play, 75-yard drive that saw running back Kareem Hunt reach paydirt to give the Browns a 29-20 lead with 10:24 remaining in the fourth and final quarter, Mahomes would stick the ultimate dagger in Cleveland's heart by connecting with Tyreek Hill on a 75-yard bomb the first play of the next possession to cut the Browns lead back to two at 29-27. Once that happened, you just knew what was going to happen.

Ever since those back-to-back gut punches, the Browns haven’t been the same team. After an unexpected 11-5 regular season record followed by beating the Steelers in the Wildcard Round and then pushing the Chiefs to the limit in the Divisional Round, the Browns were expected to build upon that success in 2021 and be legit Super Bowl contenders for years to come. To use a phrase said a lot during 2020, they have been social distancing from the Super Bowl ever since Super Bowl I in 1967.

Expectations were being heaped on the Browns left and right. They were expected to win the AFC North and get back to the postseason to set up another showdown with the Chiefs in January.

As soon as expectations were placed upon them, the Browns crumbled. It’s not surprising in the least because failing to meet expectations is what the Browns do best.

Remember 2007? The Browns finished that season 10-6 and nearly made the playoffs (and would have if it wasn't for the Indianapolis Colts, who were already locked into the No. 2 seed in the AFC, resting their starters the last game of the season against the Tennessee Titans). Cleveland was seen as a team on the rise, and as a result, the NFL schedule makers gave the Browns five primetime games in the 2008 season (three on Monday Night Football, one on Sunday Night Football and one on Thursday Night Football). However, the Browns failed to meet the hype and expectations, as they face-planted and finished the season 4-12 and fired head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Phil Savage.

What about 2019? The Browns went out and made a multitude of moves that caught the attention of fans and media members. As a result, the Browns were expected to be contenders.

Take a guess as to what they did.

They got absolutely waxed by the Tennessee Titans 43-13 in Week 1, barely lost against the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams 20-13 in Week 3 on Sunday Night Football, faltered down the stretch against the Seattle Seahawks 32-28 in Week 6 and went 6-10 overall and fired head coach Freddie Kitchens and general manager John Dorsey.

The Browns have a history of faltering when they’ve been hit with expectations, but the overall team feels different following the back-to-back losses in Arrowhead Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Baker Mayfield was Cleveland’s quarterback in both games against the Chiefs in KC. He’s now playing for the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in Hollywood following being waived by the Carolina Panthers. As for the Browns quarterback situation, they traded for troubled star Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans and gave him the largest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history at $230 million. Watson is coming off his first game with the Browns after serving his 11-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy (The Browns haven't gotten the HC/QB combo right in years!).

After their playoff run in 2020, the Browns expected the good times to continue. Maybe not Super Bowl championships considering the competition in the AFC with the likes of Mahomes and the Chiefs, Josh Allen and the Bills, Justin Herbert and the Chargers, Joe Burrow and the Bengals and Lamar Jackson and the Ravens lurking in the background, but consistent playoff appearances and division titles were expected. The Browns haven’t delivered on any of those fronts.

In 2021, the Browns went 8-9. They finished third in the division and 11th in the AFC.

This season, they had to deal with Watson’s 11-game suspension, facing Mayfield in Week 1, blowing a 13-point lead against the Jets in Week 2, and not taking advantage of the Chargers’ mistakes in Week 5.

Heading into Round 2 of the “Battle Of Ohio” in “The Jungle” against Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and the Bengals, the Browns' record sits at 5-7. A playoff spot is not out of the realm of possibilities for the Browns, but it would be a steep mountain to climb. Not only will they need to win out, but they will need a lot of help from other teams.

The Browns appeared to be headed towards becoming a team that could contend for a Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2020 season. However, it was the end of the 2020 season and the opening week of the 2021 season at Arrowhead Stadium in KC that started the Browns on the downfall that the Dawg Pound has seen ever since.

Cleveland has never truly recovered from those two back-breaking losses in KC.


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