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NFL Playoffs Kick Off With Super Wild Card Weekend


Die-hard NFL fans woke up bleary-eyed today after the most crowded weekend ever in the first round of the playoffs. The league added two extra teams for this postseason, which means more games and nearly 20 hours of viewing Saturday and Sunday. The action was both great and horrible, depending on your favorites. And naturally, the pandemic was part of the narrative too. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: With 12 teams in action, the NFL dubbed what's normally called Wild Card Weekend, Super Wild Card Weekend. And it was especially so for the long-suffering Cleveland Browns. Last night, they won their first playoff game since 1994.


AL MICHAELS: Another turnover by the Steelers.

GOLDMAN: Veteran Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw four interceptions. The Browns piled on the points in a drought-snapping 48-37 win. Running off the field, cradling the game ball, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield couldn't resist this.



BAKER MAYFIELD: The Browns is the Browns.

GOLDMAN: The Browns is the Browns is how Pittsburgh receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had dismissed the NFL's kick-me team before the game. But Cleveland is now the kicker not the kickee (ph), and a team proud of how it dealt with a number of positive coronavirus cases. Head coach Kevin Stefanski had to watch the game from his basement in Cleveland. The Browns had to use several replacement players last night, including an offensive lineman charged with protecting Mayfield, who Mayfield had never met before.


MAYFIELD: The resilience and the next-minute mentality that we've been talking about the whole season (laughter) - and for some of these guys that weren't even here while we were talking about it - it permeates through the whole team.

GOLDMAN: Notably absent from this year's playoffs - six-time Superbowl-winning head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots. The Pats and Belichick missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, but he still made news. Late today, he announced he will not accept a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump, an award that was scheduled for this week. Belichick has been a long-time friend and supporter of Trump's, but he cited, quote, "the tragic events of last week" in making his decision. Belichick said in a statement, above all, I am an American citizen with great reverance for our nation's values, freedom and democracy.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEVO'S "GUT FEELING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.