/Tim Benz: Airing of Grievances after Steelers suffer humiliating playoff defeat to Cleveland – TribLIVE

Tim Benz: Airing of Grievances after Steelers suffer humiliating playoff defeat to Cleveland – TribLIVE


It was just the latest in a long list of games that the Steelers couldn’t possibly lose, which inevitably they lost.

To Washington and the Cincinnati Bengals this year. To the New York Jets last year. To the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos back in 2018. To Ryan Mallett and the Baltimore Ravens in 2015.

Tim Tebow in the playoffs. Blake Bortles in the playoffs. The San Diego Chargers in the 1994 AFC Championship game.

You know the list.

Now, a coronavirus-afflicted Cleveland Browns team with a patchwork depth chart and a skeleton version of its coaching staff just came into Pittsburgh and blasted the Steelers 48-37 in the postseason.

It was the most humiliating playoff defeat ever endured by the team. And given some of those examples I just listed, that’s saying something.

Here are the lowlights in our final “Airing of Grievances” for 2020-21. And it’s just a sampling of what deserves to be mentioned.


The first quarter: It had to be the most pathetic 15 minutes of football in the history of the franchise.

In probably the most comical start to any playoff game in NFL history, the Steelers fell behind the Browns 14-0 within the first six minutes of competition.

That’s even worse than the 14-0 deficit the Steelers created for themselves against Jacksonville in the first 10 minutes of the 2017 playoffs.

Which I believe to be the previous worst playoff start for any team in NFL history.

The first snap of the game went over Ben Roethlisberger’s head and was recovered by Cleveland in the end zone.

Way to jump on the ball, Ben.

Then Roethlisberger threw an interception on the next drive which eventually led to this ludicrously easy touchdown catch-and-run from Baker Mayfield to Jarvis Landry.

And that was more or less the ball game. But the Browns still managed to score two more touchdowns before the first quarter even ended.

Oh, and the second quarter picked up where the team left off. Most of the offensive line false started all at once on the first attempted snap.


The last drive of the second quarter: The Steelers finally showed some life with a 13-play touchdown drive in the second quarter. It cut the deficit to 28-7.

Maybe they could get into halftime down “only” 21 points?

Nope. The defense wouldn’t let the momentum last very long.

As soon as the Browns got the ensuing kickoff with 1:38 left in the half, they marched nine plays and 64 yards in just one minute, 10 seconds as the defense showed no resistance. Austin Hooper caught a touchdown to extend the lead back to 28 points.

All anyone will talk about after this game is how bad the Steelers offense is. Don’t kid yourselves. The defense was every bit the same kind of gong show as the offense was.

Cleveland wound up with 390 total yards and averaged six yards per snap.

Coordinator Keith Butler’s players were slow and lethargic. The tackling was dreadful. The execution and game-planning were pitiful. It was a hideous performance.


Cleveland’s first drive of the fourth quarter: The Steelers had pulled within 12 points at the start of the quarter.

After a punt (we’ll get to that later), the Browns started a drive at their own 20-yard line.

Cleveland had been running the ball down the Steelers’ throats (we’ll get to that later, too). Inexplicably, though, Cleveland came out throwing twice. It set up a third-and-2 from the Browns’ own 22.

For some reason, T.J. Watt — and his NFL-leading 15 sacks — was deployed in coverage. With time, Mayfield completed a short pass to Landry that he took for 17 yards and a first down.

Three snaps later, running back Nick Chubb was scampering 40 yards through the Steelers defense for a nail-in-the-coffin touchdown, making it 42-23.

Again, dumb scheme. Worse execution.


Run game rift: As we warned during the week here at “Breakfast With Benz,” the Browns can run the ball and the Steelers can’t.

Boy, was that ever on display Sunday night.

The Steelers wound up with just 52 yards on 16 carries, good for only a 3.3 yards-per-carry average. Meanwhile the Browns gobbled up 127 yards on 31 carries, en route to a 4.1 average.

Chubb led the way with 76 yards. Not to mention his 69 yards receiving. He’s going to become an all-time Steelers killer in his career. Kareem Hunt was good, totaling 48 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns.


Where was Watt? Missing Minkah: Speaking of Watt, he was a no show.

The defensive player of the year candidate had three tackles — one for loss, and that was about it. Mysterious trips to the bench and being out in coverage at ill-advised times didn’t help that cause.

Also, All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was part of zero turnovers the last seven weeks, finishing 2020 in the same quiet manner he finished 2019.

The Steelers defense had no turnovers and no sacks against the Browns. Which is stunning, given that the Steelers led the NFL with 56 sacks and were second with 27 takeaways. The Steelers had eight sacks and three takeaways versus Cleveland in the two regular season matchups.

Here’s a wild stat. Mayfield and Roethlisberger combined to throw 102 times. Watt, Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward and Myles Garrett were featured pass rushers in the game. They combined for 42 sacks during the season. Yet, there were no sacks recorded by either team.


Oh, right, the punts: As Mike Tomlin said after the team lost in Buffalo Dec.15, “If you can’t get a yard, you don’t deserve to win.”

Well, that’s apparently what Tomlin was admitting when he punted at his own 46 on a fourth-and-1 on the first snap of the fourth quarter. His team was down 35-23 at the time.

He also punted on a fourth-and-9 down 28-0 from Cleveland’s 38. That was early in the second quarter.

In Pittsburgh, we are used to waving yellow Terrible Towels. On Sunday night, it looked like Tomlin was waving a white flag.

I wish the NFL was paying closer attention. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to watch the second half if Roger Goodell had let them surrender.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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Sports | Steelers/NFL | Breakfast With Benz | Tim Benz Columns

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