In a season for Cleveland Browns to prove themselves, particularly at quarterback and head coach, the legacy of the 2020 season proved to be an unwavering sense of purpose and a never say die attitude that propelled further than most thought possible.
From an offseason completely altered by COVID-19 and shaped by racial injustice, the Browns came together as a team in the offseason, but had to learn so much of the schemes they were implementing on the fly during the regular season.
When they weren't trying to overcome the challenges presented by realities that outside of football, they were finding ways to make up for the loss of players to the rigors of it, whether they were short term or long term injuries, such as the case with rookie Grant Delpit, who was set to start at free safety before suffering a ruptured Achilles'.
They endured a throttling at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens to open the season and responded by winning their next four. The Pittsburgh Steelers looked completely dominant in the first matchup and the Browns improved enough to beat them twice, including on the road in the playoffs.
The Browns had to show resilience by protecting leads. Getting out to big early only to have the other team respond and produce points until the Browns had to come up with a key drive or stop to ensure their win. The Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts stand out and it came up again in the playoffs in defeating the Steelers.
The Browns had to fight back in games they were down including against the Washington Football Team as well as in the second matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals when the Browns won the game on their final drive. It gave them a chance to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs, despite being down 19-3 at the half.
The Browns were never perfect, but they consistently displayed the ability to win games. They became one of the best teams in terms of closing games with their offense, because they couldn't afford to slow down.
Not only were they winning, but they were coming up with different ways to accomplish it depending on the week. Largely, the running game was critical early in the year as was an opportunistic defense led by Myles Garrett that produced a significant amount of turnovers. As the year went along, Baker Mayfield became more critical, delivering with his arm and occasionally his legs.
The Browns suffered their share of difficult lessons, but they learned how to win from success while discovering the depths of their resolve in defeat.
Odell Beckham, Nick Chubb and Wyatt Teller were just some of the players the Browns lost for significant stretches of the season. The Browns were constantly having to come up with patchwork secondaries throughout the year, which started to develop that next man up mentality.
The offensive line was the best example. J.C. Tretter played through pain, Chris Hubbard was utilized at three different spots through the course of the year before he suffered a season-ending injury. Rookie Nick Harris, Kendall Lamm and Michael Dunn had to plug and play at points. In the playoffs, the Browns had to count on Blake Hance to play left guard one week followed by left tackle the next.
When the offensive line is able to deal with that kind of pain and still find a way to succeed, it makes it difficult for anyone else to have an excuse, including Mayfield who played with a rib injury of his own for a few weeks.
The Browns coaching staff did an unbelievable job of getting this team prepared this season as well as coaching players up who were showing up the same week or even the same day of games in the case of Hance.
When the Browns found themselves ravaged by COVID-19 for three weeks, they lost a game they could have won against the New York Jets and struggled against the Steelers with a number of starters resting. As would become clear, the Browns took a sizable risk holding back against the Steelers in week 17 for the playoff rematch against them again in the playoffs in Pittsburgh.
Completely unwilling to accept the premise the Steelers would win despite having just lost defensive end Olivier Vernon to a season-ending injury, being down left guard Joel Bitonio, starting corners Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson as well as wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge, Kevin Stefanski among other coaches, the Browns shocked everyone with how they started their first postseason game in 18 years, most notably the opponent.
The Browns got out to a 28-point lead and when the Steelers showed fight, the Browns found that resilience. Once again forced to try to fend off a comeback attempt, the Browns never allowed the Steelers to get it closer than a two score deficit before they were able to secure the victory and advance in the playoffs.
Against the Chiefs, when so many things went wrong early in the game, the Browns found that resolve and once again refused to surrender. Despite a number of drops, a costly fumble that could've been a touchdown before the half and an interception on the first drive of the third quarter, the Browns never stopped trying to win.
A team that played for each other all season found strength in one another, tapped into their resolve and rallied. The Browns were able to charge back from a 19-3 deficit, scoring touchdowns on back to back drives, making it 22-17. They even got the ball back with the opportunity to take the lead.
Sadly, that was as close as they would ever come as they were forced to punt and the defense was unable to get the ball back. Nevertheless, when the Chiefs appeared primed to blow out the Browns and secure an easy path to victory, they had to fight to the bitter end to earn their spot in the AFC Championship.
As they have all season, the Browns did their fanbase and the city proud, giving everything they had along the way in a year and a season that tried to present them with every excuse to do the opposite. It wasn't enough to beat the Chiefs or win the Super Bowl, but a message was sent to the Chiefs as well as the rest of the league.
The Browns will be back, they will be better and they will be more prepared.