Only this year’s Cleveland Browns can make a win over the hated rival Pittsburgh Steelers seem unfulfilling.
Perhaps it’s because the Steelers were without QB Ben Roethlisberger and had to play third stringer Charlie Batch.
Maybe it’s because the visitors from western Pennsylvania turned the ball over eight times, and still Pat Shurmur’s crew managed only 20 points.
Or it could be because after Ohio State’s win yesterday, it seemed anti-climatic.
Whatever the reason, it seems like a hollow victory this evening, even though wins over Pittsburgh have been few and far between since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999.
With Batch in for the Steelers, Dick Jauron’s defense could afford to put more emphasis on the run defense, and the visitors could manage just 49 yards on the ground for the game. Of course it helped the running backs wearing the black and gold kept fumbling the ball. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin couldn’t be blamed for going away from the run.
Still it was the Browns and their lack of aggressiveness that kept the Steelers in the game.
Let’s look at the plays following the Pittsburgh turnovers in the first half–
After recovering a fumble on the PIT 44 yard line, the Browns ran the ball four straight plays, then after two passes, one incomplete deep throw, Phil Dawson kicked a field goal to make the score 7-3, Steelers.
The second Pittsburgh fumble occurred on their own 10. Two more running plays happened before Brandon Weeden threw a 5-yard TD pass to TE Jordan Cameron.
The third turnover was another fumble recovered on PIT 34 yard line. Weeden was sacked on the first play after getting the ball (they did try to throw), but a running play and a short pass left the Browns outside Dawson’s range. Cleveland got no points.
In contrast to Shurmur’s conservatism, when the Steelers had a free play at the end of the first half because of a pass interference penalty on CB Sheldon Brown, Tomlin eschewed the sure field goal, and ran the ball in to take the lead at 14-13.
In the second half, still trailing, the Browns didn’t play close to the vest after Brown picked off Batch on the PIT 31. Two passes, one for 17 yards to Mohammed Massaquoi, set up Trent Richardson’s 15 yard burst to give Cleveland the lead.
After getting the lead, it was back to safe mode.
Batch’s next pick (by Billy Winn) was followed by a series of runs with penalties and a sack mixed in.
Another interception, this one by Joe Haden, was followed up by three running plays.
The last Steelers mistake, another fumble, was with less than three minutes remaining, so the coaching staff ran Richardson three times to try to run out the clock.
It reminded us of the Jacksonville game in 2010, when the Jaguars kept turning the ball over and then coach Eric Mangini refused to put the game out of reach. The Browns eventually lost that game. Pat Shurmur was more fortunate today.
Of course, Shurmur was probably spooked by Weeden first quarter interception that Lawrence Timmons returned 53 yards for the first Pittsburgh touchdown.
The Browns’ coach likes to throw, but will change his mind quickly at the sight of one interception. You have to have more confidence in your quarterback than that. He did the same thing last year with Colt McCoy.
By the way, Cleveland’s longest play from scrimmage was their first play, a 26 yard pass to Josh Gordon. After that, it was back to the dink and dunk attack we’ve seen for 27 games now. Why have a passer who can throw the deep ball if you don’t ever throw deep.
Anyway, the Browns have a chance to win back to back games once again when they take on the struggling Raiders next week in Oakland. Any win is good when you have a record like Cleveland, but it would be better if fans don’t feel disappointed by a win.