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.
Considering the plethora of offensive talent on both teams — and the mediocre showings by their defenses — Sunday’s game could very well be a high-scoring one. Even if it is, the totals almost certainly won’t match those from the last time Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield faced each other in college on Oct. 22, 2016.
Playing for Texas Tech, Mahomes attempted 88 passes, completed 52 passes and threw for 734 yards — and lost. Oklahoma won, 66-59, behind Mayfield’s 545 passing yards and seven touchdowns in his first game in Lubbock, Tex. since transferring after his freshman season.
The teams combined for a this-is-not-a-misprint 1,708 yards, most ever in a Football Bowl Subdivision game, and scored touchdowns on 10 consecutive second-half drives.
Already dealing a separated right shoulder, Mahomes fractured his left wrist early in the game, and he still accounted for a record 819 yards. Recalling Mahomes’s performance, Mayfield last week said that he had never seen anything like it before, or since.
“Just the efficiency and spectacular plays,” Mayfield said. “It was fun to watch. It has always been fun to keep up with Pat.”
In their lone N.F.L. meeting, in Week 9 in 2018, Mayfield sure tried keeping up but couldn’t. Mahomes threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns — to Mayfield’s 297 and two — in a 37-21 victory in Cleveland.