Steelers vs. Browns score: Cleveland dominates early, stuns Pittsburgh for first playoff win since 1994 – CBSSports.com
Plenty of people figured that Sunday night’s rematch between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers might be one-sided. Few expected the Browns to be the ones delivering the beat-down. The tone was set from the very beginning in the final matchup of Super Wild-Card Weekend, with Ben Roethlisberger failing to corral a wayward snap on the first play from scrimmage and the Browns scooping it up for a score. Cleveland then proceeded to own the momentum for the duration of the first half, capitalizing on three Roethlisberger interceptions to build a stunning 28-point lead. The Steelers showed plenty of life down the stretch, pulling within two scores and threatening a comeback thanks to a Big Ben resurgence, but by then, it was too little, too late, and Cleveland sealed its first playoff victory since 1994 with a 48-37 decision.
The Steelers came into Sunday night’s affair with history on their side; they have consistently taken care of business against the Browns at home, including earlier this season with a 38-7 rout of Cleveland. But almost nothing went their way early on in their latest showdown with the Browns, who deflected two passes for picks, neutered every other piece of the Steelers’ offensive attack, and embraced the chance to let Baker Mayfield play it cool and lean on the battering duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Even later in the matchup, when Roethlisberger definitely turned it up a notch and started finding JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool for important gains, so much of Pittsburgh’s production felt nestled in garbage time.
A fourth Browns interception late in the fourth quarter sealed the deal for Cleveland, which hadn’t made the postseason prior to Sunday night since 2002, ensuring the Browns a trip to face the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs in the Divisional Round — all after upsetting their AFC North rivals without the help of their head coach, All-Pro left guard, No. 1 wide receiver and top two cornerbacks. In other words, Sunday night was a tremendous one for the longtime AFC North cellar-dwellers.
Here’s a full breakdown of what transpired on Sunday night.
Why the Browns won
The Browns played exceptional complementary football. Their defense forced turnovers, and their offense mostly capitalized on them. And after the Browns’ defense started the fourth quarter with a punt, Chubb and the Browns offense extended their lead. After the Steelers responded with a quick touchdown, the Browns’ offense scored a pivotal three points before kicking another field goal after Roethlisberger’s fourth interception of the night.
The Browns’ offensive line played a big role in Cleveland’s first playoff win in 26 years. A shout out is in order for Michael Dunn, who filled in admirably for Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio. Rookie Jedrick Wills also played exceptional ball in his playoff debut, as he was part of a line that did not allow a single sack of Mayfield. That is significant considering that the Steelers have led or tied for the league lead in sacks four years running.
Why the Steelers lost
Pittsburgh, the team that practiced all week, came out completely flat against a Cleveland team that spent most of the week practicing virtually. On offense, the Steelers committed four first-half turnovers that the Browns turned into 21 points. Three of those turnovers were interceptions by Roethlisberger, whose fourth interception set up the Browns’ final points of the night. Roethlisberger, in defeat, threw for 501 yards and four touchdowns. Smith-Schuster caught 13 passes for 157 yards and a score, while Diontae Johnson caught 11 passes for 117 yards in his playoff debut.
Pittsburgh’s defense, a unit that forced at least one turnover in 10 of its first 11 games, failed to record a turnover for the fourth time in its last six games and the second straight game against Cleveland. Without Joe Haden, the Steelers’ secondary was picked apart by Mayfield, who became the first quarterback since Vinny Testaverde to lead the Browns to a playoff win.
Down 35-10 at the intermission, the Steelers scored two touchdowns and forced three punts in the third quarter. They had a fourth-and-one at their own 46-yard-line at the start of the fourth quarter. But instead of going for it, Pittsburgh tried to draw Cleveland offsides before Jordan Berry’s punt sailed into the end zone. The Browns took full advantage of the Steelers’ conservative decision. Six plays after Berry’s punt, Cleveland extended its lead to 42-23 after Chubb took Mayfield’s second-down screen pass 40 yards to pay dirt.
Play of the game
The Browns have many candidates, but the game’s best play goes to Chubb, whose touchdown reception off a screen pass quelled Pittsburgh’s momentum while giving his team a 19-point lead less than three minutes into the fourth quarter.
“We had Michael Dunn step in at left guard for Joel Bitonio. And then, Michael got hurt and a guy named Blake [Hance], that I introduced myself to literally in the locker room before the game stepped up in the fourth quarter.” — Mayfield to NBC Sports when asked about his success behind Cleveland’s re-tooled offensive line.
The Browns are onto Kansas City, where they’ll face Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the defending champions. The Browns will have Kevin Stefanski back on the sideline, who enjoyed Sunday night’s game from the comfort of his basement. Pittsburgh will begin what could be an interesting offseason, as the Steelers have several notable free agents that include Smith-Schuster, James Conner and Bud Dupree, among others.