Monday, January 11, 2021

Carlson Wins

The highlight of the entire Super Wild Card weekend in the NFL came at 11:35 last night.

This was at that end of a 31 or so hours of football, a stretch that for the first time saw six playoff games played in one weekend. And yes, there were a lot of great moments and great plays, but if you're a Princeton fan, then the highlight was the one TigerBlog just referenced.

It was not that far away from midnight last night when Princeton alum Stephen Carlson recovered an onside kick against the Pittsburgh Steelers to seal a 48-37 win for the Cleveland Browns. 

It was a great ending to a huge night for the Browns, who won in their first playoff game in 18 years. 

It wasn't just a win. It was a win over their hated rival, a team that had completely dominated the Browns in Pittsburgh.

In fact, Cleveland had lost 17 straight times in Pittsburgh and had not won in Heinz Field since 2003 prior to the game last night. That 2003 win, by the way, was the only previous win by the Browns in the stadium.

Speaking of Heinz Field, when TigerBlog wrote about Carlson last week, he mentioned what Carlson said about how he'd grown up a Steelers fan and now was going to be running out onto the Heinz Field turf for an NFL playoff game after having been to so many games there as a kid.

He'd done it in the regular season before, but last night was for the playoffs. It had to be amazing for him, especially when you add into that the fact that it was Cleveland's first playoff game in 18 years. 

It turned out to be quite a night for Carlson and his teammates.

Nobody really gave the Browns much of a chance heading into this one, even after last week's game, when Cleveland defeated the Steelers 24-22 in Cleveland. That game was the one that got the Browns into the playoffs, and it was sealed with little over a minute to play when Carlson recovered an onsides kick.

That game was a bit different, though, since Pittsburgh was resting several of its starters, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who most certainly played last night. Roethlisberger completed an astounding 47 of 68 passes for 501 yards and four touchdowns, setting an NFL record for completions in a game (regular season or playoffs). 

He'd also throw four interceptions, though, and the entire tone of the game was set on the first play, when a bad snap went over Roethlisberger's head and rolled into the end zone, where Cleveland recovered for a touchdown.

In a blink, it was 7-0 Browns. In a few more blinks, it was 28-0 Browns.

Pittsburgh would make something of a game of it, especially in the third quarter, but Cleveland would answer whenever it needed to. Pittsburgh's last score came just under the two-minute warning, and it was Carlson who gobbled up the onside kick to again seal it.

This was a classic win for the 2020 season. 

Cleveland won despite hardly having been able to practice due to positive COVID tests, including from head coach Kevin Stefanski, who watched the game at home on TV. The Browns were also very shorthanded on the offensive line due to COVID, and there were also two other offensive coaches who were out. 

Despite that, the Browns overcame and advanced.

Okay, maybe calling Carlson's recovery the highlight of the weekend is a bit of a stretch. Still, it was great to see him continue to contribute, and to do so in a playoff game that meant so much to a city that had waited a long time for a night like last night.  

Next up is a trip to top-seeded Kansas City, the defending Super Bowl champ. It'll be another week for Cleveland to get healthy and maybe even get to practice.

And it'll be another weekend for Carlson to play. 

As part of the story that TB wrote last week, he mentioned that in the last three years Carlson's football resume has included 1) a 10-0 season at Princeton, 2) a rookie season in the NFL that included a touchdown reception - against the Steelers no less and now 3) an NFL playoff appearance. 

To that you can include a playoff win, one that was sealed once again by Stephen Carlson.

No comments: