PITTSBURGH- The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season came to a shocking end on Sunday as they fell to the Cleveland Browns by a score of 48-37. It was the first time since 2003 that Cleveland was victorious at Heinz Field. The Browns entered the game without head coach Kevin Stefanski, who tested positive for the Covid-19 virus earlier in the week. Cleveland had not practiced all week and the team was missing several key players, including members of their offensive line and both starting cornerbacks.
The tone was set from the opening play when center Maurkuice Pouncy sent the first snap of the game towering over the head of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Browns recovered in the end zone for a quick 7-0 lead. One the very next series, cornerback MJ Stewart intercepted a Big Ben pass and set the Browns up inside Steelers’ territory. Three plays later, Baker Mayfield connected with Jarvis Landry on a 36-yard pass to put Cleveland on top 14-0.
The Steelers’ offense struggled early and were forced to punt on their next possession. Two big runs by Cleveland running back Nick Chubb drove the Browns down to the Pittsburgh 11-yard line. Kareem Hunt bulled his way into the end zone to extend the visitors’ lead to 21-0 with 4:40 remaining in the first quarter. Turnovers plagued the Steelers throughout the game and when Sheldrick Redwine picked off a tipped pass from Roethlisberger the Browns were in business yet again, deep inside Pittsburgh territory. Hunt scored for the second time from 8 yards out to increase the lead the 28-0 before the first quarter came to a close.
When running back James Conner scampered into the end zone with 1:44 remaining in the half it appeared the Steelers were gaining some momentum. However, Mayfield led the Browns down the field and found a wide open Austin Hooper for a seven yard score to put the Browns back on top by 28 with 40 seconds to play in the half. Pittsburgh countered with a furious drive that resulted in a 49-yard Chris Boswell field goal as time ran out in the first half.
In the third quarter, the Steelers tried to make a game of it when Big Ben hit Eric Ebron with a 17-yard touchdown strike and then found JuJu Smith Schuster on a huge fourth and goal to bring Pittsburgh to within 12 at 35-23. The Browns answered back early in the 4th quarter when Mayfield connected with Chubb on a 40-yard catch and run to extend the lead to 19. The Steelers would not go down without a fight and on their next possession, Roethlisberger found rookie Chase Claypool for a 30-yard scoring strike to bring the Steelers back to within two scores at 42-29.
Cleveland tacked on a 24-yard field goal to extends their lead to 16 with just over 4 minutes to play in regulation. Any hope of a comeback was thwarted when Simione Takitaki intercepted Big Ben in Steelers’ territory with time winding down in the contest. The Browns added another field goal to put the game out of reach at 48-29 with under 3 minutes to play.
Pittsburgh added a garbage time touchdown and converted a 2-point attempt to make the score 48-37 but it was too little, too late. The Browns emerged victorious and sent the Steelers packing with their first win in Pittsburgh in 18 years.
There is a lot of uncertainty swirling within the Steelers’ organization. With several high profile players eligible for free agency, it will be interesting to see what 2021 has in store for the 6-time Super Bowl champions.