After the dust settled on Wild Card weekend, we finally knew the team the Kansas City Chiefs would play in the Divisional round at Arrowhead Stadium. On Monday morning, we took a first look at the Cleveland Browns — which by then, were listed as 10-point underdogs.
The Browns were able to cruise to a Wild Card victory against a Pittsburgh team that simply fell apart right from the opening snap, giving up five turnovers that the Browns converted to 24 points. It’s not easy for any team to win an NFL game in which you’re that sloppy with the ball — dating back to 1997, the Steelers had lost 17 straight games in which they committed five or more turnovers — so we shouldn’t be surprised that Cleveland won the game.
The Browns’ offense deserves credit for taking advantage of the opportunities they were given, but the Steelers — after failing on six consecutive drives to open the game — were then able to score 37 points. That should tell you everything you need to know about the Cleveland defense.
The Chiefs’ head coach also met with reporters on Monday, speaking in very complimentary terms about the Browns’ rushing attack featuring Nick Chubb and former Chief Kareem Hunt — and the play-action passing of quarterback Baker Mayfield.
With Kevin Stefanski, Mayfield is on his third head coach in as many years.
“He’s matured on the field,” Reid said of Mayfield “I think he’s really fallen in love with this scheme it looks like and mastered it. He’s doing very well. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’ve been given a couple different things as a young quarterback, a couple different schemes to try to be the best that. That’s not easy to do for these quarterbacks. A lot of guys get lost in that and it looks like he’s really powered through it and done a nice job.”
The Chiefs’ quarterback also took a turn praising the former Chiefs running back.
“That’s my dude,” Mahomes said of Hunt. “I came in with Kareem and obviously we’re not together anymore but still stay in touch. He’s a heck of a football player and someone that was one of my best friends when we first got on the team together.”
Mahomes and Hunt were both members of the Chiefs’ 2017 NFL Draft class and were teammates until Hunt’s release midway through the 2018 season. Mahomes said he reached out to Hunt after the Browns won their Wild Card game over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
“I actually texted him [Sunday] night,” Mahomes said. “He has a lot of success on that field every opportunity he gets. He’s a great football player and someone that I know who will keep getting better and better as his career goes on.”
Tuesday brought the first round of many roster moves the Chiefs would make as they prepared for their first postseason game.
Baker broke the femur of his left leg during the Week 17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, so this was not an unexpected move. With any luck, he’ll be ready to play by the beginning of the 2021 regular season.
Aaron Wilson also reported the release of practice squad defensive tackle Tyler Clark. The former Georgia defensive lineman had been signed to the team’s practice squad on December 29.
These moves made room for two practice squad re-signings.
Chiefs sign Jordan Ta'amu and Marcus Kemp to practice squad— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) January 12, 2021
We had already reported wide receiver Marcus Kemp’s imminent re-signing. Kemp has been a key special teams player the Chiefs will be happy to have back for the postseason run, in which practice squad elevations will be unlimited.
Also on Tuesday, Kansas City signed former Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon to a reserve/future contract for 2021. The next day, the Chiefs released Ta’amu in order to re-sign Gehrig Dieter to the practice squad — and also signed troubled third-year wide receiver Antonio Callaway to a reserve/future deal. On Thursday, the team released practice squad center Darryl Williams, replacing him with defensive end Austin Edwards — and also gave reserve/future contracts to Ta’amu and third-year wide receiver Chad Williams.
On Wednesday, tight end Travis Kelce revealed that his quarterback had been preparing for all four of the Chiefs’ potential opponents during the Wild Card round.
“You can tell that he’s been doing his homework for the past week and a half,” Kelce told reporters via Zoom on Wednesday. “Just talking to him, him understanding what every team that we could possibly face is doing defensively. Sure enough, as soon as we found out on Sunday who we were playing, he was right there and had a whole notebook ready for the Cleveland Browns.”
After Cleveland’s win on Sunday, Kareem Hunt had already gone on record, saying that the game against the Chiefs would be “personal” for him. Kansas City’s tight end said the same thing — for a different reason.
“Being from Cleveland and playing the Browns is definitely kind of upped the ante a little bit,” Kelce told reporters on Wednesday. “Made it a little more personal. I absolutely love Cleveland, but I understand that we are each other’s enemies right now. So I’ve got a lot of friends — and a lot of family — back in Cleveland, telling me I’m the enemy.”
Kelce said he harbors “no hard feelings” for any of those back home who find it difficult to put aside their Browns fandom.
“I know what it means to be a Cleveland sports fan,” said Kelce, “and to be a die-hard, at that. I think a lot of the close friends and family are going to be wearing their Chiefs gear — but maybe throw an orange shirt with a nice Browns helmet on underneath or something like that. It’s definitely going to be mixed feelings for a lot of people that I know — but at the same time, I’m going in with the mindset of the Kansas City Chiefs: gotta win this game.”
Replying to a Kansas City fan’s tweet that the Chiefs would face strong competition from the Browns, the Chiefs’ wide receiver had said, “I wouldn’t go that far.” Ohio reporters worked hard to make it a story — but looking at it on Thursday, Pete Sweeney thought there wasn’t a lot of evidence among the Browns’ players that it had become one.
“I have no problem with it to be honest with you because if you don’t have confidence, then you’re not going to have success,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. ”And those guys [with the Chiefs] have been doing it together for a few years now.”
Was that the end of it? Nope.
Asked about the tweet-reply, wide receiver Jarvis Landry said he would not get into Twitter wars.
Was that the end of it? Nope.
Finally, a Browns player — and familiar face — took the bait on Thursday.
“We’ll just see on Sunday,’’ running back Kareem Hunt said, via cleveland.com. “We’ll let the play do the talking and there isn’t much to be said. If he believes that, we’ll see what he thinks after the game.”
Friday brought news of an interview the Chiefs’ right guard had given to a Toronto newspaper, in which he said he missed playing with his teammates and was working hard to stay in shape for a 2021 return.
Earlier in the season — when his team was struggling with injuries on the offensive line — Duvernay-Tardif said he even went on a flight of fancy.
“Yeah, in the first week or two of the season, Kelechi Osemele — the guard they signed right after I opted out — injured himself pretty badly. My first thought went from, ‘That could have been me’ to ‘What are they going to do now?’ And then Mitchell Schwartz went down … And I was like, ‘I would pay a lot of money for a flight to Kansas City, get tested, and parachute onto the field — and contribute.’ But this opt-out is irrevocable … There have been some tough moments for sure.”
Wednesday’s injury report — which showed Sammy Watkins had not practiced — had been worrisome. The hammer fell on Friday: “Playoff Sammy” wouldn’t dress for the Browns game.
Two Chiefs have been ruled out for their Divisional round game — linebacker Willie Gay (ankle) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf). Read more on the Watkins injury here.
Three Chiefs are officially questionable — running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle), cornerback Rashad Fenton (foot/ankle) and tight end Deon Yelder (groin). Edwards-Helaire, who has not played since Week 15, only practiced as a limited participant on Wednesday of this week.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid on that practice: “A couple days ago [Edwards-Helaire] moved around real well, and then we’ve just kind of backed off him. He’s still doing stuff, just not with the group. So, we’ll just see how he does here. We’re literally taking it day by day, so we’ll see how it rolls.”