The Cleveland Browns once again snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with another late win, this one coming with a 13-10 score over the Pittsburgh Steelers through a last-second game-winning field goal.
Cleveland also further tightened up the already close AFC North standings with the victory.
Cleveland Browns Take Another Late Victory
Deciding games in the final minutes has become customary for the Browns this season, particularly over the last six weeks. Five of Cleveland’s last six games have been decided within the final minute, with four going its way.
The Browns first took a 19-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6 as Dustin Hopkins hit a 29-yard field goal with 1:40 left that proved decisive.
Kareem Hunt then ran in for a touchdown with 15 seconds left in the Browns’ 39-38 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7 before Hopkins hit a walk-off field goal from 40 yards out as time expired in a 33-31 win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10.
All of that led to Cleveland’s 13-10 win over the Steelers on Sunday, which was clinched on a 34-yard field goal by Hopkins with just two seconds remaining.
The Browns found a way to win despite playing without starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, who suffered a season-ending injury during last week’s win over the Ravens.
Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson was up and down Sunday as Watson’s replacement, completing 24 of 43 passes for 165 yards and an interception, but Cleveland’s three scoring drives proved to be enough as its stout defense led the way.
Thompson-Robinson also went 4-for-5 passing on the team’s final drive with his lone incompletion on a spike to stop the clock.
“Those are big moments, where you’re looking for your guy to come through,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters postgame. “He came through … came through when it mattered.”
AFC North Race Tightens Further
Cleveland’s crucial win over the Steelers also further muddied the waters in the uber-competitive AFC North.
The Browns (7-3) now sit just half a game back of the Ravens (8-3) for the division lead, while the Steelers (6-4) and Cincinnati Bengals (5-5) remain very much in the mix, too.
Baltimore still seems best positioned of the bunch to win the division, but it lost key playmaker Mark Andrews to a season-ending injury on Thursday. The Bengals also lost quarterback Joe Burrow to a season-ending injury on Thursday, leaving them in a tough spot with ground to make up to potentially secure a playoff spot, not to mention Watson being sidelined for the Browns.
All of those injuries have made it tough to predict just how the division might shake out, but three of its teams currently hold playoff spots, and the Bengals remain in the mix.
If all four teams were to find their way into the postseason, it would be the first occurrence in NFL history of a division having all four of its teams make the playoffs. There has been one instance of three teams from the same division qualifying for the postseason each of the last three seasons, but never four, with the NFL expanding the playoffs to seven teams per conference in 2020.
The AFC North appears to be the league’s best shot at achieving that this season, though injuries could end those hopes.
Either way, the divisional race looks poised to remain competitive.