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story.lead_photo.caption Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) celebrates after scoring on an eight-yard run during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

PITTSBURGH -- So much for the weight of history. Or practicing. Or having your head coach on the sideline. Or your emotional leader on the field.

The Cleveland Browns overcame all of it. The burden of carrying the mantle of a franchise that's long been a punchline. A schedule ravaged by a covid-19 outbreak. A rival that for years has treated them like a harmless little brother.

All of that's over. For now. And maybe for good.

The Browns dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers 48-37 in the wild-card round Sunday night, picking up the franchise's first postseason victory in more than a quarter-century and earning a trip to Kansas City next Sunday to face the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

Playing with first-year Coach Kevin Stefanski, Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and top cornerback Denzel Ward back in Cleveland after all tested positive for covid-19, Cleveland (12-5) raced to the biggest first half by a road team in NFL playoff history then held on.

"We believed," quarterback Baker Mayfield said. "People on the outside don't matter to us. It's on the inside and we believed the whole time, and that's all that matters."

Mayfield threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns, including a screen pass that Nick Chubb turned into a 40-yard score that halted Pittsburgh's momentum after the Steelers had pulled within 12. Kareem Hunt added 48 yards and two touchdowns on the ground while Cleveland's defense forced five turnovers to hand the Steelers (12-5) a stunning loss.

The victory was the Browns' first postseason triumph of any kind since beating New England on New Year's Day 1995 -- three months before Mayfield was born -- and their first playoff win on the road since Dec. 28, 1969.

Gallery: Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

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They did it despite practicing just once over the last two weeks and having lost 17 in a row at Heinz Field. They did it with efficiency and a little bit of swagger. And they did it with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer -- a Cleveland native -- filling in for Stefanski and with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt -- who played collegiately at Pitt -- taking over the play-calling duties.

"I grew up (a Browns fan), so I know what this means," Priefer said.

"We have a resilient team," Mayfield said. "Defense played great in the first half and we kind of stalled out and let them climb back in the game, but that's a great team win right there -- guys stepping up all over the board. I'm proud of these guys."

The Steelers (12-5) certainly helped, ending a season in which they started 11-0 with a thud that could reverberate for years. Ben Roethlisberger ended his comeback season by throwing for 501 yards on an NFL-record 47 completions with 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

"I don't have any magical answers," Roethlisberger said. "We just didn't put it together. Tonight, the glaring issues is we turned the ball over."

And over. And over. And the NFL's third-ranked defense could do little to stem the tide. The Steelers led the NFL in sacks but failed to get to Mayfield once. Cleveland's 48 points were the most Pittsburgh has ever given up in the playoffs, surpassing the 45 it surrendered up to Jacksonville in the 2017 playoffs.

Pittsburgh's problems started on the first play from scrimmage when center Maurkice Pouncey's snap sailed by Roethlisberger all the way to the end zone. Cleveland's Karl Joseph fell on it for a touchdown. The miscues were just starting. Roethlisberger threw three first-half interceptions, two of which led directly to Browns scores.

By the time the Steelers found their footing, they were down 28-0. Even when they did get it going on a 1-yard touchdown run by James Conner with 1:44 to go in the half, the Browns stormed right back. Mayfield capped a cathartic opening half with a masterful 64-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard toss to Austin Hooper that put Cleveland up 35-7 at the break.

Pittsburgh -- much as it did in its last playoff appearance three years ago, an upset defeat at home to Jacksonville -- tried to claw back in it. The Steelers pulled within 35-23 at the end of the third quarter. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 46, Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin opted to punt.

"I wanted to pin them down and maybe provide a short field for their offense," Tomlin said. "I just wanted to keep the momentum going in terms of field positioning."

It didn't work out. The kick bounced into the end zone for a touchback and Mayfield calmly took Cleveland 80 yards in six plays. The sideline erupted as Chubb streaked into the end zone.

So much for the Browns being the Browns, a winking assessment Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster made about Cleveland in the middle of the week. Regardless of the intent -- Smith-Schuster's teammates insisted he was kidding -- Mayfield and All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett took it to heart.

Then, in front of a mostly empty stadium and a national audience so accustomed to seeing them stumble, the Browns took out their frustration.

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Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) runs past Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams (98) during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) lines up behind center during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
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Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) celebrates with quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after scoring on an eight-yard run during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
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Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) celebrates as he returns to the sideline after scoring on an eight-yard run during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) looks a the scoreboard as he walks off the field during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Cleveland Browns strong safety Karl Joseph (42) celebrates after recovering a fumbled in the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
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Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) runs through a hole during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) scores on an 11-yard run with Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Robert Spillane (41) defending during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

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