Tom Brady and the Buccaneers did little with their first possession of the game, going three-and-out. But the Saints made the most of theirs, thanks to a 54-yard punt return by Deonte Harris.
The Saints receiver escaped one hit just after he caught the ball, then sprinted down the left sideline. The Buccaneers finally tackled him at their 21-yard line.
Drew Brees brought the Saints into the red zone with a pass to receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a seven-yard gain. Tampa Bay was charged with a penalty for lowering the helmet. But the Saints, who had the best red zone offense in the league, had to settle for a field goal.
They now lead, 3-0.
Brady-Brees. Brees-Brady. The names evoke N.F.L. history whichever way you say them. When the two quarterbacks face off Sunday in their Divisional Round matchup, Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and his Saints counterpart, Drew Brees, will set records even before kickoff.
Brady, 43, and Brees, 42, will together become the oldest opposing starting quarterbacks in a game at a combined 85 years, 169 days old. Brady has the most touchdowns, with Brees second all-time, while Brees has the most passing yards, with Brady right behind him.
The sure-shot Hall of Fame quarterbacks are playing each other for the first time in the postseason, with the winner heading to Green Bay to play the No. 1 seed Packers (13-3) in the N.F.C. Championship game next Sunday.
Brady, who led the Buccaneers to a 31-23 victory over the Washington Football Team in the wild-card round, is out to prove he can win a Super Bowl title with a team besides the New England Patriots. His first season with the Buccaneers (11-5) was uneven as Brady got familiar with his new teammates, including receivers Mike Evans, Scottie Miller and Chris Godwin.
The stakes are higher for Brees, who is reportedly contemplating retirement when the New Orleans Saints (12-4) season ends. Incredibly durable during 20-year career, Brees has battled injuries the past two seasons, including broken ribs that forced him to sit out four games in November and December.
Still, Brees and the Saints, who beat the Chicago Bears, 21-9, last week, won their two head-to-head matchups with the Buccaneers this season. The Buccaneers looked disorganized in Week 1, and the Saints blew out Tampa Bay in Week 9. Those games aside, the teams were evenly matched, with potent offenses and defenses that were ranked in the top ten in the league.
The Kansas City Chiefs might have lost their best player, but they didn’t lose the game. They can thank backup quarterback Chad Henne, who relieved an injured Patrick Mahomes to deliver the most important scramble and the most important pass of his career on consecutive plays.
With Kansas City facing third-and-14 at its 35-yard line, Henne fled the pocket and, seeing an expanse of green ahead of him, ran toward the first-down marker. He dived headfirst, and thinking he earned the first down, popped up and pumped his fist. Replays confirmed Henne was about a half-yard short.
So the Chiefs, rather than try to draw Cleveland offside and then go for it, called a play, and Henne completed a 5-yard pass to Tyreek Hill for the first down. The Browns did not have any timeouts and Henne knelt on the final play, securing the 22-17 victory.
The Browns have a chance to take the lead over top-seeded Kansas City in the fourth quarter of a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Repeat: The Browns have a chance to take the lead over top-seeded Kansas City in the fourth quarter of a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Cleveland’s comeback from a 19-3 halftime deficit has coincided with the departure of Patrick Mahomes, whose replacement, Chad Henne threw a dreadful interception in the end zone.
One play after a 15-yard crackback penalty on Chiefs tight end Ricky Seals-Jones pushed the ball back to the Browns’ 38-yard line, Henne lofted a ball downfield in the general vicinity of Demarcus Robinson. Waiting in the end zone like an outfielder tracking a fly ball, Browns safety Karl Joseph settled under it and caught it for a touchback, giving Cleveland the ball at its 20-yard line with eight minutes left while trailing by 22-17.
With the Chiefs reeling after Patrick Mahomes’s injury, the Browns embarked on their longest — and best — series of the season, an 18-play masterpiece that ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by Kareem Hunt. Rushing for 38 yards on the drive, Nick Chubb and Hunt softened Kansas City’s defense and helped the Browns control the clock.
It was Chubb who first extended the possession, gaining 3 yards on fourth-and-1 from Cleveland’s 34-yard line, but tight end Austin Hooper made the drive’s pivotal play. Reluctant to attempt a field goal trailing by 12 points, Cleveland went for it on fourth-and-3 from the Chiefs’ 12. Mayfield flipped a perfect pass to Hooper, who dived with his arms extended to grab it, and three plays later Hunt scampered into the end zone to cut Kansas City’s lead to 22-17.
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Patrick Mahomes was ruled out of Sunday’s game after sustaining a concussion in the third quarter. Mahomes had to be helped off the field and taken into the Chiefs’ locker room after a hit from Cleveland linebacker Mack Wilson left him dazed.
On third-and-1 from the Kansas City 48-yard line, Mahomes rolled right on a speed option play and kept the ball. Coming in from Mahomes’s left, Wilson wrapped his left arm around Mahomes’s neck, dragging him to the ground and causing Mahomes’s head to hit the ground. Wilson then appeared to hold on to Mahomes as he rolled to the side.
Unable to get up, Mahomes needed teammates to steady him as he walked off the field. The veteran backup Chad Henne came in to replace him.
Henne had thrown only nine passes over his three seasons with Kansas City until Week 17, when the Chiefs rested Mahomes and several starters against the Los Angeles Chargers. Playing the full game, Henne completed 23 of 32 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs had hoped he wouldn’t receive another snap this season, but with Henne likely playing the rest of the game — and, perhaps, beyond — they’re sure glad he got that experience two weeks ago.
The Browns scored their first touchdown of the game after rediscovering their running attack. Nick Chubb totaled 41 yards on two consecutive plays. Kareem Hunt found creases. With that element humming again, the Browns’ offense opened up, and Mayfield connected with Jarvis Landry for a 4-yard score, cutting the deficit to 19-10.
Baker Mayfield entered Sunday having thrown only one interception since Week 7, a testament to his comfort with Kevin Stefanski’s offense. But on the opening drive of the second half, Mayfield, flushed out of the pocket, didn’t see Tyrann Mathieu hovering in the middle of the field and threw the ball right into his hands. Mathieu returned the interception 17 yards, to the Cleveland 19, but the Chiefs failed to capitalize, as Harrison Butker’s 33-yard field goal attempt clanged off the left upright.
Up to that point, Mayfield had been a reasonable facsimile of the version of himself that shredded Pittsburgh’s defense last week — and Tennessee’s and Baltimore’s before that. His stat line at halftime — 11 of 17 passes for 134 yards, completions to six players — was diminished by two drops by Nick Chubb and the demoralizing fumble by Rashard Higgins toward the end of the first half.
In the first half, Mayfield had connected with open receivers and kept the ball away from Kansas City’s aggressive secondary, which loves playing with a lead. According to Pro Football Focus, Mayfield was 3 for 3, for 74 yards, on throws that traveled at least 20 yards.
What the Browns have not done much of is get the ball to Kareem Hunt, who touched the ball only once — on an incomplete pass that was negated by a defensive pass interference call. Unless the Browns’ struggling running game can get untracked — six attempts, 18 yards — any chances of a comeback rest with Mayfield.
What a devastating sequence of events for the Browns, who lost a touchdown — and gave possession back to Kansas City — after receiver Rashard Higgins fumbled the ball out of the back of the end zone.
Higgins, who had caught a 23-yard pass on the previous play, again got open, and Mayfield found him. But as Higgins neared the goal line, reaching out with the ball toward the right pylon, in swooped Chiefs safety Daniel Sorenson, whose hit dislodged the ball. The rules state that if a team fumbles the ball and it goes out of the opponent’s end zone, the play results in a touchback.
Video replay confirmed the call on the field, and instead of a Cleveland touchdown drawing the score to 16-9, pending the extra point, the Chiefs assumed possession on their own 20-yard line. Making it worse for Cleveland was that the former N.F.L. official Gene Steratore, speaking on the CBS broadcast, said Sorensen should have been penalized for illegal use of his helmet. But that call is not reviewable, Steratore said.
That was of little solace to Browns fans, who have a long history with unfortunate postseason plays. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Higgins’s fumble was Cleveland’s first lost fumble in the playoffs inside the 10-yard line since Earnest Byner’s infamous fumble at the 1-yard line against Denver in the 1987 A.F.C. championship game.
Patrick Mahomes might be playing, but he does not look comfortable. Clearly hampered by the big toe injury that caused him to seek medical attention during Cleveland’s last drive, Mahomes managed to scramble for 13 yards on a third-and-8, but he got up limping. He also skipped two incompletions and then missed Tyreek Hill deep — and by a fair margin, which is hard to do with Hill’s speed — to thwart a promising possession.
Toe injuries can be troublesome because they affect quarterbacks’ ability to plant and throw, and push off when sliding in the pocket. Even with a compromised Mahomes, the Chiefs still lead, 16-3, after a 50-yard field goal by Harrison Butker, and their defense is doing its part by covering Browns receivers downfield.
The most imposing feature of the Chiefs’ offense just might be the buffet of playmakers available to Mahomes. The star of their second drive was Mecole Hardman, who caught two passes for 51 yards — including a nifty 42-yard catch-and-sprint — and, in a way, helped Travis Kelce breach the goal line on his 20-yard touchdown catch five plays later.
Faking out Browns cornerback Denzel Ward, Kelce caught the ball over the middle at the Cleveland 13-yard line, turned and rumbled toward the end zone. Jumping from the 4-yard line, Kelce landed atop Hardman, who was out front blocking, and fell in for the score. This time, Harrison Butker made the extra point, and the Chiefs lead, 13-3.
Through two drives, Mahomes has been nothing short of spectacular, completing eight of nine passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. But he did enter the blue medical tent because of what CBS reported as a left toe injury. After a brief stay, Mahomes returned to the sideline, and presumably will return for the Chiefs’ next possession.
Patrick Mahomes & Travis Kelce (20-yard TD)
🔸 Completion Probability: 82.4%
🔸 Expected YAC: 12
🔸 TD Probability: 50.2%*
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 17, 2021
Teams generally don’t beat the Chiefs by answering touchdowns with field goals. But the Browns will happily accept 3 points after reaching as far as the Kansas City 20-yard line before their drive stalled.
Still, it was an impressive beginning for Cleveland’s offense, which lost the superb rookie offensive tackle Jedrick Wills to injury on the first play of the drive. His return is questionable.
Browns LT Jedrick Wills is questionable to return due to an ankle injury sustained on the first offensive play. A major loss if he can’t come back.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 17, 2021
Baker Mayfield converted the first two third downs, finding tight end Austin Hooper in the flat on third-and-10 before racing around the right tackle for a 6-yard gain on third-and-4. The biggest play came from Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, who blitzed Mayfield off the edge and sacked him for an 8-yard loss, setting up a third-and-21 from the Kansas City 31-yard line. Two plays later, Cody Parkey drilled a 46-yard field goal to get Cleveland on the board. The Chiefs lead, 6-3.
The Kansas City Chiefs hadn’t played in two weeks, which means they had two weeks to mend, two weeks to fine-tune their offense, two weeks to figure out what they do best and how they would unspool it against their opponent Sunday. On their opening drive, the Chiefs ran the ball six times — giving it twice to speedster Tyreek Hill, who accounted for 34 yards — before capping their 10-play, 5-minute-49-second drive with a 1-yard run by Patrick Mahomes, who, unsurprisingly, showed no evidence of rust. After Harrison Butker hooked the point-after attempt wide left, the Chiefs lead, 6-0.
A CBS broadcast of the N.F.L. playoff game between the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs was briefly cut off for viewers in New York and some other areas on the East Coast on Sunday, prompting complaints and confusion among viewers and a scramble to find other ways to watch the game.
The outage began about 20 minutes before the scheduled kickoff at 3:05 p.m. Eastern time, during the network’s pregame show as a segment with the analyst Bill Cowher interviewing Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski was nearing an end. Some viewers saw blank screens while others were not able to tune to the channel or saw error messages indicating CBS was unavailable.
The outage lasted about 30 minutes, returning just after Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes ran in the game’s first touchdown and Harrison Butker missed an extra point attempt (that’s why the score was 6-0, in case you missed it).
Almost immediately after noticing the failure, viewers began voicing their confusion and outrage on social media. The failure seemed to primarily affect the New York metropolitan area and some other parts of the Northeast, and the telecast appeared to still work on streaming platforms and some channels showing the game in Spanish.
WCBS-TV, the New York CBS affiliate that is owned by the network itself, acknowledged the problems in a statement.
“There are technical difficulties at WCBS affecting some parts of the NY area,” the station said. “We are aware and working on a solution.”
The N.F.L. declined additional comment and referred questions to CBS.
Kevin Draper contributed reporting.
The Browns’ postseason history is so sordid that its most soul-crushing moments are known by shorthand. Go ahead and mention Red Right 88 to a Cleveland fan — we dare you. Or The Drive. Or The Fumble.
Before advancing to the playoffs this season for the first time in 17 years, the Browns were a regular participant, qualifying eight times in the 1980s, including consecutive seasons between 1985 and 1989. The losses, and how they transpired, linger longest.
In the A.F.C. divisional round following the 1980 season, the Browns trailed the Raiders by 14-12 with under a minute left and had the ball on Oakland’s 13-yard line. Instructed to throw the ball away if no one was open, quarterback Brian Sipe tried forcing the ball to Ozzie Newsome and his pass was intercepted.
In the A.F.C. championship game following the 1986 season, John Elway led Denver 98 yards in 15 plays to even the score at 20-20 with 37 seconds remaining. The Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl with a field goal in overtime.
In the A.F.C. championship game following the 1987 season, with the Browns trailing Denver by 38-31 late in the fourth quarter, Earnest Byner fumbled on the Broncos’ 1-yard line.
Even in their last appearance before these playoffs, in the 2002 wild-card round the Browns led Pittsburgh by 13 points early in the fourth quarter before collapsing. They couldn’t erase that defeat by beating the Steelers last week, but at least they avenged it.