The Pittsburgh Steelers players sitting on the turf at Heinz Field watched in horror as Baker Mayfield’s final drive for the Browns came up short to send the Baltimore Ravens in to the NFL Playoffs.
It was a wild night in the AFC North finale and here’s how all the drama unfolded between Heinz Field and M & T Bank Stadium.
The Steelers entertained the Cincinnati Bengals needing a victory. They also required the Browns taking down the Ravens on the road in order to win the division.
First Quarter, Advantage Ravens…
Receiving the ball from the Bengals to start the game, Pittsburgh could only muster an eight play drive before punting. Not the commanding start they needed.
Some 250 miles away in Baltimore, Baker Mayfield wasn’t doing the “Terrible Towels” any favours. The Browns received the kick off and Mayfield’s opening drive saw a short pass picked off by Jimmy Smith.
Baltimore could only convert the turnover in to three points off the boot of the prolific Justin Tucker and Mayfield turned on the magic. He put together a four play, 75 yard drive which ended with a 28 yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman.
Not to be outdone, Lamar Jackson provided his own wizardry on the next Ravens possession. Confusing the Browns defence with his ability to run and make plays with his arms, Jackson engineered a seven play drive that he finished off with a 25 yard burst through to the endzone.
10-7 Baltimore at the end of the quarter.
Over in Pittsburgh, things were nowhere near as exciting. Crucially, there was no lead for the Steelers either. The first quarter was a battle of the punters and the deadlock remained until the second quarter.
Second Quarter, Bengals and Browns break Steelers hearts…
Looking to find JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle, Steeler’s quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was picked off by Shawn Williams for a 58 yard touchdown and a Bengals 7-0 lead.
The two teams traded field goals towards the end of the half and the Steelers went in to the locker room 10-3 down. At this point they were staring elimination in the face.
Back in Baltimore, the Browns were struggling to find a way to cope with Lamar Jackson and had no answer of their own to the Ravens flocking defence. Baker Mayfield added a second interception of the night, finding Jimmy Smith again.
Jackson added another rushing touchdown on an 8 yard scamper. He should have had another but fumbled as he dived for the goal line. Frustratingly for the Browns, the play was called dead as Jabrill Peppers raced down field for a guaranteed touchdown.
When Greg Joseph missed a 46 yard field goal to end the half, the Ravens held a 20-7 lead and the advantage in the race for the AFC North.
Third Quarter, Steel Resolve and Mayfield Magic…
Who’s to tell if it was Matt McCrane’s field goal as the first half ended, or Mike Tomlin’s half time speech, but the Steelers came out fighting for the second half.
It was another low scoring third quarter but Pittsburgh tied the game when Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith Schuster for an 11 yard touchdown.
McCrane added a 47 yard field goal with 8 minutes left in the game to give Pittsburgh their first lead of the night and a glimmer of hope. Nervous eyes in Heinz Field began to wander to events in Baltimore.
The crowd in M & T Bank were being treated to a much more entertaining spectacle. Baker Mayfield tied Peyton Manning’s rookie touchdown record with his second of the night, finding Jarvis Landry for the 48 yard score.
On defence, the Browns looked like they’d found some answers to Lamar Jackson and limited the Ravens to a third quarter Justin Tucker field goal. The Ravens took a 23-14 lead in to the final quarter.
Fourth Quarter, All on the line…
Both games saw both teams trade fourth quarter field goals. In Pittsburgh, Randy Bullock tied up the game for Cincinnati with a 32 yard effort. Greg Jospeh’s 35 yarder for Cleveland was cancelled out by a 23 yard Justin Tucker kick.
It was beginning to look like it wouldn’t be for Pittsburgh. However, some more Mayfield magic gave the Steelers faithful hope. Baker conjured up a nine play drive, covering 75 yards. All the way down to the 1 yard line. However, the first attempt to find David Njoku failed but at the second Mayfield found Antonio Calloway for the touchdown. The Browns were back within two points. With the touchdown Mayfield took the record for the most touchdowns by a rookie of all time. Not bad for a guy who Hue Jackson never intended on starting this year!
The Browns defence stepped up and shut Baltimore down to set up a thrilling finale with under two minutes on the clock.
Matt McCrane first walked in to the Pitsburgh facility on Friday after replacing Chris Boswell. He now had the opportunity to give the Steelers a 16-13 lead and didn’t flinch. The kick proved to be the winning points for Pittsburgh as the Bengals turned the ball over on downs.
They’d done all they could and sat down with the 63,000 fans in Heinz Field to watch the battle in Baltimore conclude.
The Final Finale…
What drama there was.
Two replay reviews, first to confirm a catch and secondly to over rule a call of an incomplete catch. The Browns kept driving. The needed only a field goal to take an unlikely win and strike a dagger in to Baltimore hearts.
Three incompletions in a row set up a dramatic 4th and 10 at the Ravens 39 yard line. Mayfield looked for Duke Johnson on a short pass but found only Baltimore linebacker CJ Mosley.
With the 26-24 win the Ravens take the AFC North and set up a week 15 rematch with the LA Chargers in the NFL PLayoff wild card.
The Steelers still had a glimmer of hope to reach the post season but that faded away as the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Tennessee Titans on Sunday Night Football.
For the Cincinnati Bengals, the defeat saw them finish plum last in the division. Just a day later, it was announced that head coach Marvin Lewis will leave the franchise after 16 seasons.
The future is bright for the Cleveland Browns. Baker Mayfield leads a cast of first round picks that have gelled together over the latter half of this season. They look to be a formidable unit going forward to next year. The main question will be who leads the team from the head coach position?
Baker Mayfield versus Lamar Jackson looks to be one of the most electric divisional quarterback battles around.
I, for one, am looking forward to witnessing it, and reporting on it, for many years.
Feature Image Photo Credit: Carolyn Kaster (AP)