Strong start for Browns ends in Steelers rout

James Conner, Antonio Brown combine for 4 TDs in 33-18 win

Daryl Ruiter
October 28, 2018 - 4:08 pm
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back James Conner

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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Pittsburgh, PA (92.3 The Fan) – A strong start by the Browns fizzled quickly and now another season begins circling the drain thanks to yet another loss in Pittsburgh.

After a dominating first quarter that saw the Browns lead 6-0, force their 21st turnover this season, give up just 16 yards and not allow a first down, Pittsburgh took over in the second quarter. Running back James Conner and receiver Antonio Brown scored 2 touchdowns each and the Steelers rolled to a 33-18 win at Heinz Field.

The Browns have now lost 25 straight on the road, 15 in a row at Heinz Field and are 2-5-1 on the season with the 7-1 Kansas City Chiefs due in town next Sunday.  

“It was a chance for us to make a mark in the AFC North,” head coach Hue Jackson said.

Both of Cleveland’s offensive tackles – Desmond Harrison and Chris Hubbard – were abused with regularity by Steelers outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree as well as defensive tackle Cameron Heyward and Baker Mayfield paid the price by getting sacked twice and hit 5 more times.

“They blitzed a lot. They blitzed, I don't know, 70 or 80 percent of the time and they showed us some looks that we haven't seen, but we've got to protect better as a unit,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “We got to know who we're going to, we've got to get to our guy and we've got to win one-on-one battles and that's how protection is. They showed us a lot of looks, but we've got to be ready for them.”

Harrison was flagged at least three times for holding – 1 was declined – and 1 resulted in a safety because it came in the end zone trying to keep Dupree off rookie Baker Mayfield at the 8:13 mark of the third quarter, which made it 16-6 Steelers.

“I should’ve made those blocks,” Harrison said. “We just have to do a better job keeping him clean.”

Mayfield completed 22 of 36 passes for 180 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception in the loss but was able to pad those stats on the final drive of the game.

“Obviously very frustrating, but we’ve got to learn from the situations we’ve been in, we have to learn from the mistakes we’ve had,” Mayfield said. “We got outplayed today. We have a better team than we showed today and we have to do that every Sunday.”

Ben Roethlisberger was his usual dependable self by completing 24 of 36 throws for 257 yards including 2 TDs with 1 interception.

“We played bad football today,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said.

The Browns actually scored points on their opening drive for the first time this season – a 34-yard field goal from Greg Joseph.

Joseph also hit from 45 yards for a 6-0 advantage with 2:34 left in the opening quarter but he would later push a 41-yarder wide right with 13:29 left in the first half, that ultimately was a turning point in the game.

After the missed field goal, the Steelers woke from their slumber and quickly moved 69 yards on 6 plays as Roethlisberger found Antonio Browns wide open for a 43-yard touchdown and a 7-6 lead with 11:28 left in the second quarter.

Instead of a 9-0 lead, Cleveland found themselves down 1 in the blink of an eye.

“Well, any time you give up a touchdown on the road when you're shutting an opponent out is a huge moment in the game,” safety Damarious Randall said. “But I feel like we had multiple chances to take control of the game and we just didn't grasp it. When you're on the road versus a division opponent, you've got to take advantage of any opportunity that you have.”

Derrick Kindred intercepted Roethlisberger at the Cleveland 44 at the 4:54 mark of the opening quarter. Turnover No. 21 on the season for Cleveland’s defense. It marked the sixth consecutive game with a pick for the defense. They had 7 of them in 2017.   

Joe Haden ended Mayfield’s ensuing possession by picking him off on a deep ball down the near sideline to turn it over and give Pittsburgh the ball at their own 13 with 7:20 left in the half.

After passing on a 21-yard field goal with :15 left on fourth-and-1, Roethlisberger completed a quick pass to Juju Smith-Schuster to the 1 for a first down and on the next play hit Brown for the second time with the ball going right through Randall’s hands and a 14-6 lead at halftime.

"I saw something I saw on film. I tried to go make a play,” Randall said. “I feel like I was a little bit faster than what they were, and the ball was a little bit behind me and I just couldn't grasp it."

Cleveland’s defense ended Pittsburgh’s opening drive of the second half when they forced their second turnover of the afternoon. Running back Stevan Ridley caught a 4-yard pass but Kindred ripped it loose. Denzel Ward scooped up the loose ball and returned it 8 yards out to their own 29.

A three-and-out followed.

That’s 22 turnovers and just 34 points this season off them and 8 of those turnovers and 10 points are against the Steelers.

Following the safety courtesy of Harrison’s hold in the end zone, Pittsburgh got very charitable after that.

The Steelers failed to field the ensuing free kick and Denzel Rice of the Browns fell on it at the Steelers 24 setting up a penalty-filled possession.

A roughing the passer penalty on Heyward moved the ball to the 12. A pass interference by safety Terrell Edmunds in the end zone against tight end David Njoku that came on third down gave Cleveland a fresh set of downs at the 1. Haden was called for defensive holding wiping out a second down sack before Mayfield found Antonio Callaway for a 1-yard touchdown, which also drew another defensive flag.

Joseph missed the extra point wide left to leave the score 16-12 with 5:24 remaining in the third quarter.

Then the roof caved in.

James Connor ran right at Cleveland’s defense amassing 60 of the 75-yard drive on the ground, which he capped with a 12-yard TD run off the right side to the pylon for a 23-12 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Conner, who totaled 146 yards and 2 touchdowns on 24 carries, added a 22-yard TD run to cap another 10-play drive to go up 21 with 2:04 left. Prior to Cleveland’s final drive he outgained the Browns entire offense by himself.

Chris Boswell booted a 42-yard field goal to push the lead to 26-12 with 13:29 left in the game.

Mayfield found tight end Seth DeValve for a 24-yard touchdown with 6 seconds remaining to provide the final score after the 2-point try failed.