Wait Is Worth It for Browns
They won and waited. And then, the Cleveland Browns were forced to wait some more before they could celebrate.
After taking nearly every game this season down to the final excruciating seconds, the Browns -- and their playoff chances -- had to survive three hours of sudden death.
Could there be any other way?
Rookie William Green ran for 178 yards and had a 64-yard touchdown run with 3:53 to play Sunday, giving the Browns a 24-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
However, Cleveland’s first playoff berth since 1994 wasn’t secured until hours later, when the New York Jets beat Green Bay.
“This is just how our season has been,” said wide receiver Quincy Morgan. “Everything hanging from a thread.”
The Browns went from an expansion team to the playoffs in only four years. The original franchise moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens in 1996, and Cleveland was awarded an expansion team in 1999.
Also appropriate for this crazy season, the Falcons lost and made it back to the playoffs anyway. Atlanta (9-6-1) backed into the NFC playoffs as a wild card when New Orleans lost at home to Carolina. “I’m really, really, really down,” Atlanta tight end Alge Crumpler said. “I feel like we backed into these playoffs.”
Brown linebacker Earl Holmes stopped Warrick Dunn at the one-yard line on fourth and goal with 23 seconds left, and the Browns (9-7) ran out the clock for their biggest win since returning to the league.
They did it without quarterback Tim Couch, who broke his right leg in the first half, and won another gut-wrenching game despite committing four turnovers.
“This game was a microcosm of the whole season,” Brown Coach Butch Davis said. “What can you say?”
When the final seconds ticked off, the Browns -- led by linebacker Dwayne Rudd, whose impulsive helmet toss in Week 1 cost Cleveland a win -- ran to midfield and danced in celebration on the Browns’ orange helmet logo as 73,528 fans rocked Browns Stadium.
“It’s been a roller coaster of a season, and the ride hasn’t stopped,” said quarterback Kelly Holcomb, who replaced Couch.
Cleveland’s players went to the locker room having done all they could, but they had to wait for the final score from New England, where the Miami Dolphins and Patriots went to overtime.
When Adam Vinatieri’s 35-yard field goal went through to give the Patriots a 27-24 win, it gave the Browns a chance. Then, their last hope hinged on the Jets beating the Packers.
At 7:16 p.m. EST, the Browns officially became a playoff team when the Jets drubbed the Packers, 42-17.
Cleveland will play its arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the first round.
Holcomb, who looked rusty in his first game since Oct. 6, threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Johnson to put Cleveland up, 17-16, with 6:58 remaining.
Green then gave Cleveland some breathing room when he busted through a pile at the line of scrimmage and sprinted down the right side for his second touchdown.
But Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick drove the Falcons downfield. His 12-yard pass to Trevor Gaylor gave the Falcons a first down at the Cleveland four.
Dunn ran it to the one, and Vick threw an incompletion on second down. Rudd then submarined Dunn just short of a touchdown on third down, and Holmes tackled the Atlanta running back on fourth down, inches from a score that would have brought the Falcons within a two-point conversion of tying it.
As they began their final drive, the Falcons heard over the stadium P.A. that the Saints had lost.
“That was kind of a sigh of relief,” Vick said. “But I still wanted to win the game.”