The most infamous fumble in NFL history occurred on January 17, 1988, when Earnest Byner's fumble just short of the end zone sealed the Browns' loss to Denver in the AFC Championship Game. Exactly 33 years to the day after Byner's fumble, the Browns were the victim of another playoff fumble that undoubtedly came back to haunt them.
Trailing 16-3, the Browns appeared to be on the verge of cutting into the Chiefs' lead before halftime. But after catching Baker Mayfield's pass, receiver Rashard Higgins lost control of the ball just shy of the goal line. The ball sputtered out of the end zone, resulting in a touchback. The Browns' offense then watched as Harrison Butker kicked his second field goal of the half after Kansas City's offense took possession with 1:34 left until halftime. The stop loomed large in the outcome of the game, as the Chiefs held on for a 22-17 win after losing quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the third quarter.
The play was initially reviewed before the officials stood by their initial call on the field. Adding insult to injury was the fact that Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen appeared to lead with his helmet, which is not a reviewable penalty.
Higgins' turnover was the Browns' first since their Week 16 loss to the Jets. The Browns did not commit a single turnover during their consecutive wins over the Steelers. Cleveland's offense struggled to rediscover its momentum after scoring five touchdowns in last Sunday's wild-card win over Pittsburgh. The Browns recorded just nine first downs in the first half. They also gained just 18 rushing yards against Kansas City's 21st ranked rushing defense.
Cleveland's offense woke in the second half. Jarvis Landry made it a 19-10 game after catching a four-yard touchdown pass. Kareem Hunt's three-yard touchdown run trimmed the Browns' deficit to five points with 11 minutes left. But despite Mahomes' absence, the Chiefs were able to hold on after Henne hit Tyreek Hill for five yards on fourth-and-one with 1:14 left.
Sunday's loss ended a historic season for the Browns, who recorded their best season in 26 years. A 6-10 outfit in 2019, Cleveland went 11-5 during the regular season before posting its first playoff win since 1994.