The task for the Cleveland Browns was simple. They had to win in a stadium where they had dropped 17 straight and do it without their head coach. Mission accomplished as the Browns built a 35-10 halftime lead before completing a 48-37 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Baker Mayfield threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns, including a screen pass that Nick Chubb turned into a 40-yard score. Chubb's TD catch halted Pittsburgh's momentum after the Steelers had pulled within 12. Kareem Hunt added 48 yards and two touchdowns on the ground while Cleveland's defense forced five turnovers to hand the Steelers a staggering loss. For the Browns, it was their first postseason victory in 26 years and their first playoff road win since December 1969. The Browns played without first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski, Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and top cornerback Denzel Ward after all tested positive for COVID-19. The 48 points were the most the Steelers have given up in the playoffs, surpassing the 45 they gave up to Jacksonville in the 2017 playoffs.
Meanwhile, strong defense was on full display during the first two NFL playoff games on Sunday. The New Orleans Saints kept Chicago out of the end zone until the final play after the Baltimore Ravens stifled the NFL's top running back. Drew Brees threw for two touchdowns and Alvin Kamara ran for 99 yards and a score in the Saints' 21-9 victory over the Bears. Brees tossed an 11-yard TD pass to Michael Thomas to open the scoring. He later connected with Latavius Murray for a 6-yard score late in the third quarter, shortly after the Bears committed a neutral zone infraction on fourth-and-3 at the Chicago 13. Brees also had his first career playoff rushing TD until replay showed he failed to cross the goal line. Kamara capped the scoring with a one-yard run midway through the fourth quarter. The Saints kept the Bears out of the end zone until Mitchell Trubisky hit Jimmy Graham for a TD as time expired.
The Ravens have advanced in the AFC playoffs by giving Lamar Jackson plenty of running room while shutting down NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry. Jackson ran for 136 yards and a long touchdown as the Ravens rallied from an early 10-0 deficit to beat the Titans, 20-13 in Tennessee. The Baltimore quarterback tied the game late in the first half with a 48-yard scoring burst that erased a 10-3 deficit. Jackson also threw for 179 yards as the Ravens won for the first time in 22 games when trailing by at least 10 points. Henry had his worst performance this season with 18 carries for 40 yards. The All-Pro ran all over the Ravens with 328 yards rushing combined in the past two meetings. The Titans had the ball and a chance to tie when Marcus Peters intercepted Ryan Tannehill's pass intended for Kalif Raymond with 1:50 left. Tannehill and the Titans were held to 209 net yards.
The NBA had its second postponement of the season due to COVID-19. Sunday's game between the Boston Celtics and Miami has to be rescheduled due to concerns of exposure within the Heat roster. The Celtics already were planning to use the minimum eight players after seven were ruled out due to the league's health and safety protocols. The Heat learned earlier Sunday that guard Avery Bradley would not be available for the game because of the COVID-19 protocols, causing the team to go through the contact tracing data. With that process still ongoing late afternoon, the decision was made to postpone the game two hours before tipoff.
Of the games that did happen Sunday:
The Nuggets blew out the Knicks, 114-89 as Nikola Jokic provided 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in just 30 minutes. Gary Harris added 14 points for the Nuggets, who got only nine from star guard Jamal Murray. Denver has won four of five since a 1-4 start.
Shea Gilgeous-Alexander poured in 31 points and Hamidou Diallo had 25 off the bench in the Thunder's 129-116 comeback win at Brooklyn. Al Horford furnished 22 points and hit three of Oklahoma City's 15 e-pointers. Kevin Durant returned from a two-game COVID absence and had 36 points for the Nets, who led by six before being outscored, 37-18 in the third quarter.
The Los Angeles Clippers struggled again on Sunday, one game and two days after blowing a 21-point lead in a 10-point loss to Golden State. This time, the Clippers fell behind early before posting a 130-127 win over the Chicago Bulls. Kawhi Leonard pumped in 35 points and Paul George added 28 with nine assists and seven assists. George had four points in the final minute to help the Clippers improve to 7-4. Lou Williams contributed 21 points for Los Angeles, which trailed by nine heading into the second quarter. The Bulls lost despite a 45-point eruption by Zach LaVine, who also had seven rebounds and seven assists.
The Lakers won for the sixth time in seven games as Anthony Davis had 27 points and LeBron James added 18 in a 120-102 decision over the Rockets. Davis helped the Lakers finish with 62 points in the paint during a game in which they led by as many as 27. It was a testy game that included five technical fouls, two flagrant fouls and the first-half ejections of Markieff Morris and DeMarcus Cousins.
Damion Lee canned a pair of free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining to push the Warriors past the Raptors, 106-105. Andrew Wiggins had 17 points and matched his career high with four blocked shots for Golden State, which nearly squandered away a game it led by 17. The Warriors won despite a woeful shooting performance by Stephen Curry, who shot 2 of 16 and missed nine of his 10 3s for 11 points after scoring 143 over his previous four games.
Donovan Mitchell scored 13 of his 28 points in a decisive first quarter that carried the Jazz to a 96-86 victory over the Pistons. Mike Conley had 22 points for Utah, which went on a 17-0 run to go up by 20 through 12 minutes. Jerami Grant scored 28 points for the Pistons, who cut the deficit to six late in the third quarter.
The Timberwolves' seven-game losing streak is over after D'Angelo Russell contributed 27 points, five rebounds and five assists in a 96-88 win over the Spurs. Russell scored eight in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer to tie the score with 7:02 left and two free throws to ice it with 31.5 seconds remaining. Malik Beasley added 24 points to help the Wolves get their first win since Dec. 26.
In other NBA news, the Washington Wizards' playoff hopes have taken a major hit. The Wizards likely will finish the rest of the season without center Thomas Bryant because of a partially torn ACL in his left knee. Bryant was injured during Saturday's loss to Miami. Bryant is one of just two players to start the Wizards' first 10 games, averaging 14.3 points on 65% shooting while grabbing 6.1 rebounds per game.
In women’s college basketball, Siena bested Rider 69-60, UMass defeated Fordham 61-56, and UMass Lowell ripped Hartford 74-52. In men’s college basketball, Hartford routed UMass Lowell 75-58, Siena took down Fairfield 75-68, and Vermont destroyed Binghamton 84-44.
In top-25 men’s basketball:
No. 5 Iowa opened Sunday's schedule by winning a matchup of ranked teams. Luka Garza poured in 33 points and the Hawkeyes improved to 11-2 by holding off 16th-ranked Minnesota, 86-71. Jordan Bohannon had an outstanding all-around game, delivering 19 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and no turnovers. Joe Wieskamp added 20 points to the win. The Hawkeyes did a nice job defending Marcus Carr, who finished with 13 points. Brandon Johnson had 12 points and eight boards for the 10-4 Golden Gophers.
Darryl Morsell scored 19 points and Donta Scott added 16 for Maryland in a 66-63 upset of 12th-ranked Illinois. Maryland allowed just two points over the final four-plus minutes and went ahead for good on Hakim Hart's 3-pointer with 4:08 remaining. Ayo Dosunmu scored 23 points for the 9-4 Illini, while Kofi Cockburn added 21 with 10 rebounds.
Jalen Cone dropped in 18 points off the bench and 19th-ranked Virginia Tech dominated the second half of a 77-63 win against Notre Dame. Keve Aluma had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Hokies, who trailed by seven before outscoring 42-21 after the break.
In college basketball news:
Georgia Tech has called off its third straight men's basketball game because of COVID-19. The Yellow Jackets were set to host Pittsburgh in Atlanta on Wednesday, but the game has been postponed because of positive tests within the Georgia Tech program. No makeup date has been determined. The Yellow Jackets haven't played since a Jan. 3 victory over Wake Forest.
Tennessee and Vanderbilt have agreed to play each other on Tuesday after their scheduled games were postponed. Tennessee was supposed to be at South Carolina on Tuesday, while Vanderbilt was to face No. 13 Missouri. Those games were pushed back because of a combination of positive COVID-19 tests, contact tracing and subsequent quarantining of individuals within the Missouri and South Carolina basketball programs.
The PGA of America has cut ties to President Donald Trump by voting to take the PGA Championship event away from his Bedminster golf course in New Jersey next year. The vote comes four days after the Trump-fueled riot at the nation's Capitol as Congress was certifying the election victory of President-elect Joe Biden. This is the second time in just over five years the PGA of America removed one of its events from a Trump course. It canceled the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in 2015 at Trump National Los Angeles Golf Club after Trump's disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants.
The Vancouver Canucks have cancelled training camp practices and workouts with their NHL season set to begin on Wednesday in Edmonton. The Canucks say the decision was made out of an abundance of caution following potential exposure to COVID-19. Vancouver is the fourth team to have its training camp affected by COVID-19, joining the Dallas Stars, Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. The governments of the five Canadian provinces where the NHL has a presence have given approval for Canadian teams to play at their home arenas this season.
Jessie Diggins has won a first title for the United States in cross-country skiing's Tour de Ski. Diggins led the women's time standings after seven events. She placed second in the 10-kilometer final stage of the 10-day competition raced in Italy and Switzerland. Diggins' final time of more than three hours was 1 minute, 24 seconds ahead of Russian Yulia Stupak.
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