Browns quick hits: Cleveland falls short in clutch and to last place in AFC North with 15-10 loss to Steelers
CLEVELAND — The Browns got tricked into thinking they would receive a treat in their Halloween showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But two late drives into Pittsburgh territory resulted in a lost fumble and a turnover on downs, and the Browns fell 15-10 on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in their first of six AFC North games this season.
After the game, Browns five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Jarvis Landry blamed himself for fumbling and failing to secure Cleveland's final pass of the game.
The Browns (4-4) had prevailed in back-to-back games late last season against the Steelers — the regular-season finale Cleveland needed to win Jan. 3 to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and a wild-card matchup Jan. 10 at Heinz Field.
A third victory a row would have given the Browns their longest winning streak in the series since the late 1980s, but they couldn't deliver the dagger in the clutch. The Browns triumphed in seven consecutive meetings with the Steelers from 1986-89.
Now the Browns are in last place in the division. They stumbled to 9-37-1, including 1-1 in the playoffs, against the Steelers (4-3) in the expansion era.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield returned to the starting lineup for the Browns. His streak of 53 consecutive starts ended Oct. 21, when a completely torn labrum, fraying and a fractured humerus bone in his left, non-throwing shoulder sidelined him for a 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos on “Thursday Night Football.”
Playing with his injured shoulder in a new harness, Mayfield went 20-of-31 passing (64.5%) for 225 yards without a touchdown pass or an interception for a rating of 86.1.
Mayfield fell shy of becoming the first Browns quarterback to defeat the Steelers in three consecutive games since Bernie Kosar won four in a row in the 1986-87 seasons.
Two-time Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb and All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin also returned to game action for the Browns. But Conklin was knocked out of the game with 9:07 remaining in the second quarter because of a dislocated left elbow, and safety John Johnson III left late in the first half with a sprained neck.
Jack Conklin injury:Browns All-Pro right tackle knocked out of Steelers game with dislocated elbow
Chubb (calf) and Conklin (knee) had each missed the previous two games with injuries.
In Chubb's return, he finished with 16 carries for just 61 yards (3.8 average).
The Browns entered the weekend ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing (170.4 yards per game), but they were held 96 yards on 23 carries (4.2 average).
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's starting record against the Browns improved to 24-3-1, including 0-1 in the playoffs. Mayfield, Brady Quinn and Brian Hoyer are the only Browns quarterbacks who have defeated Roethlisberger.
In what might have been his last game in Cleveland, Roethlisberger went 22-of-34 passing (64.7%) for 266 yards and a touchdown without an interception for a rating of 98.4.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is now 23-6-1 in the series, including postseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers take control in fourth quarter
The Steelers earned their first lead of the game with 11:04 left in the fourth quarter.
On fourth-and-goal, rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth made a juggling circus catch of a Roethlisberger pass in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown. Safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. was glued to Freiermuth, but the tight end came down with the ball anyway. The ensuing 2-point pass fell incomplete, but the Steelers still went ahead 15-10 at the end of a 13-play, 83-yard drive.
With the Browns driving on the next series, former Cleveland linebacker Joe Schobert forced Landry to fumble, and edge rusher T.J. Watt recovered at the Pittsburgh 20 with 6:04 left to play.
The Browns defense responded by tallying a three-and-out, which rookie cornerback Greg Newsome II finished with a clutch open-field tackle on third-and-8 against receiver Diontae Johnson, who gained 6 yards.
After a punt, the Browns got the ball back at their 39 with 4:22 remaining.
They advanced to the Steelers 26, where they went for it on fourth-and-12 with 1:58 left. Mayfield's pass was a bit high. Landry jumped and got his hands on the ball, but he failed to catch it, resulting in a turnover on downs with 1:53 remaining.
Landry had five catches on 10 targets for 65 yards, but he dropped another pass earlier on the same fourth-quarter drive. A completion would have given the Browns a first down at the Pittsburgh 26.
A roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Alex Highsmith gave the Browns 15 yards and a first down at the Steelers 24 on the next play, but the offense stalled in the buildup to the decisive fourth-and-12, a scenario in which coach Kevin Stefanski said he didn't contemplate kicking a field goal.
Despite the turnover on downs, the Browns had all three of their timeouts and could have gotten the ball back with a three-and-out, but on second-and-8 from the Pittsburgh 28, Johnson broke loose for a backbreaking 50-yard catch-and-run.
D'Ernest Johnson helps Cleveland Browns go ahead early in second half
It didn't look like it would be running back D'Ernest Johnson's day after the hero of the win over the Broncos dropped two passes.
But Johnson redeemed himself by rushing for a 10-yard touchdown to complete an eight-play, 86-yard drive on the Browns' first possession of the second half. The score on second-and-goal put the Browns ahead 10-3 with 9:36 remaining in the third quarter.
The Steelers countered right away, but they still trailed 10-9 after scoring a touchdown with 3:39 left in the third quarter.
Rookie running back Najee Harris capped a 12-play, 78-yard march by rushing for an 8-yard touchdown on second-and-6.
But with kicker Chris Boswell out of the game after being evaluated for a concussion, the Steelers went for two points.
Roethlisberger scrambled into the end zone, but a holding penalty called on center Kendrick Green nullified the play. The Steelers went for two again with the ball spotted at the 12, and Roethlisberger threw incomplete as he took a hit from All-Pro end Myles Garrett, who entered the weekend leading the NFL with 9½ sacks and added one sack against the Steelers.
Earlier in the day, Garrett created a stir with a creative Halloween costume. He arrived at the stadium dressed as the Grim Reaper, donning a cape featuring a list of all the quarterbacks he has sacked in his NFL career.
Garrett's counterpart on the Steelers is three-time Pro Bowl selection Watt. He entered the game with seven sacks this season and added 1½ sacks against the Browns.
In his postgame news conference, Mayfield said he did not suffer any setbacks with his injured shoulder.
Gamble by coach Mike Tomlin costs Steelers points late in second quarter
The Browns were fortunate to be tied with the Steelers 3-3 at halftime.
After Garrett sacked Roethlisberger for a 7-yard loss on second down and Harris rushed for 8 yards on third down, the Steelers lined up for a 28-yard field goal.
However, Tomlin called a fake.
Boswell caught the snap and rolled to his right. He threw an incomplete pass intended for tight end Zach Gentry, who was surrounded by Browns players in the back right corner of the end zone.
Boswell was injured when he took a hit from Browns defensive tackle Jordan Elliott during the play, which resulted in a turnover on downs at the Cleveland 10 with 1:38 left in the second quarter. The Browns offense failed to capitalize on the turnover on downs.
In the third quarter, the Steelers announced Boswell would not return to the game after being checked for a concussion.
Speaking to a Professional Football Writers of America pool reporter after the game, referee Shawn Hochuli said the officials "didn’t see contact that rose to the level of a foul" when Elliott hit Boswell.
Cleveland Browns begin the game by drawing first blood
After the Steelers won the coin toss and deferred, the Browns produced a 13-play, 63-yard scoring drive to open the game.
Chase McLaughlin's 30-yard field goal gave the Browns a 3-0 lead with 8:09 left in the first quarter, but the Browns wanted more.
Tight end Austin Hooper was wide open at the 5 when he dropped a pass Mayfield threw a bit high on first-and-goal from the 8. Then Chubb ran for a yard on second down, and Mayfield was sacked by Watt and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward on third down.
The Browns resorted to a field goal and led 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The Browns defense registered a stop on its opening series when linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. broke up a pass Roethlisberger intended for Freiermuth on third-and-14 from the Pittsburgh 47.
But the Steelers defense answered with a turnover on downs. Stefanski elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 39. Chubb got the carry but was swarmed for a 1-yard loss with 14:54 left in the second quarter.
Then the Steelers tied the score 3-3 with 9:18 left in the second quarter, when Boswell made a 31-yard field goal at the end of a 10-play, 47-yard drive. Defensive tackle Malik McDowell had sacked Roethlisberger two plays earlier.
Roethlisberger had the last laugh, though. He is 12-2-1 as a starter in Cleveland.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
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