Looks like the Browns may have to wait another year to realize those Super Bowl dreams.
Undrafted rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges completed 14 of 21 passes for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception, as the Steelers came from behind to defeat the Browns, 20-13, at Heinz Field on Sunday.
The victory improves the Steelers record to 7-5, and they still have the inside track on the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC with just four weeks to go.
As for the Browns, they are now 5-7, and it would be best to categorize their postseason chances as slim.
Things did start out quite well for the Browns, who methodically had their way with Pittsburgh in the first meeting, a 21-7 victory at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 14.
Cleveland took the opening kickoff and efficiently marched downfield on a time-consuming drive down to the Steelers six-yard line. The key play on the drive was a remarkable throw by quarterback Baker Mayfield on third and 14 that was topped by an even more remarkable sideline catch by receiver Jarvis Landry that was initially ruled incomplete, before being reversed after a challenge by Browns’ head coach Freddie Kitchens.
But after a neutral zone infraction by Bud Dupree gave Cleveland a first and five from the six, the Steelers defense held strong and forced the Browns to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Austin Seibert.
As for Pittsburgh’s offense, it did virtually nothing in the first quarter, gaining a net-total of four yards on two possessions.
The Browns made it 10-0 midway through the second quarter on a fifteen yard catch-and-run by running back Kareem Hunt.
But just went it looked like the Steelers were in deep trouble, they let the Duck fly. Facing a third and nine from the Pittsburgh 18, Hodges let loose with a pass down the left sideline that was pulled in by receiver James Washington, who was actually the real hero, as he showed great body control and concentration by getting both feet in-bounds for a 31-yard catch near midfield.
The drive ultimately stalled at the Cleveland 21, where kicker Chris Boswell connected on a 39-yard field goal to make it, 10-3, visitors.
Following a quick three-and-out by Cleveland, the Steelers offense built on its new-found momentum, marching 69 yards on a five-play drive that culminated in a 30-yard touchdown catch by Washington to tie the score at 10 just before the half. Washington displayed even more concentration than on the sideline pass, by not only fighting off blatant pass interference, but by wresting possession of the ball away from the Browns’ defensive back who interfered with him.
The Steelers carried their momentum into the second half, taking the opening kickoff and marching 69 yards yet again, this time on a seven-play drive that culminated in a hard-fought, one-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Benny Snell Jr., to make it 17-10.
The key play on the drive was made by, you guessed it, Washington, who pulled in a 44-yard catch down to the Cleveland 15 while being tightly contested by cornerback Denzel Ward.
Three plays later, Ward was involved in another key play on the drive, by interfering with rookie receiver Deon Cain on a third-down pass into the end zone, a call that gave the Steelers a first and goal at the one.
Moments later, the Steelers offense would have the football again, and in really decent field position, thanks to a strip-sack by Dupree and a fumble-recovery by defensive lineman Cam Heyward at the Cleveland 46.
Pittsburgh did advance the football to the Browns’ nine but ultimately had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Boswell to make it 20-10, early in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland’s offense got on a bit of a roll on the ensuing drive, advancing all the way to the Steelers 14. But on third and 10, Heyward and Dupree combined to sack Mayfield and force a 34-yard field goal by Seibert to pull the Browns to within a touchdown midway through the final period.
The Browns got the football back one play later on an interception by Terrance Mitchell on a pass in-which there seemed to be some miscommunication between Hodges and rookie receiver Diontae Johnson.
Mitchell returned the interception to the Pittsburgh 30 yard-line.
But not only did the Steelers defense hold strong, it pushed Cleveland’s offense back on a third-down sack by defensive lineman Javon Hargrave at the 38.
The Brown’s sent Seibert out to attempt a 56-yard field goal, but instead of that, he performed a pooch punt that was eventually downed at the Steelers one. Head coach Mike Tomlin challenged that a Browns’ player made contact with the football as part of his body was in the end zone–something that appeared to be obvious on replay and would have given the Steelers possession at the 20. Unfortunately, the call was upheld, putting Pittsburgh’s offense in a very precarious position.
How did the offense respond? Perhaps with the most important drive of the season to date.
Snell rattled off 12 yards on the first play, while Hodges converted on two third and six passes–one to Johnson and another to tight end Vance McDonald.
The Steelers ultimately had to punt, but not before advancing the ball to their own 47 and not until their was only 1:53 remaining.
The Browns advanced the football to their own 40, thanks mostly to a questionable roughing the passer call on Dupree, but cornerback Joe Haden put an end to the competitive phase of the game with a diving interception at the 1:06 mark.
For the day, the Steelers defense limited Mayfield to 196 yards passing while sacking him five times.
As for Washington’s day, he pulled in four passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, while Snell finished the day with 63 rushing yards and a score.
Next up for the Steelers is a trip to Arizona where they will take on the Cardinals next Sunday at 4:25.