Ah, a silver platter with a victory on it. Even the Cleveland Browns couldn't turn that down.
Cleveland has lost one winnable game after another this season. But the Pittsburgh Steelers said "No you won't this time" and the Browns grudgingly accepted the gift for a 20-14 victory in Cleveland that put a dent in the playoff hopes of their traditional tormenter.
Just their third win in the last 25 games against Pittsburgh came courtesy of a ridiculous eight turnovers and just enough clutch plays by an offense that has too often treated the end zone like it was diseased. Defensive veterans Sheldon Brown and D'Qwell Jackson both said afterward that they had never been part of a game that featured eight turnovers by one team.
The Browns (3-8) held on for dear life in a scoreless fourth quarter thanks to two picks and two fumbles. The opportunism was a result not simply of Pittsburgh mistakes, but of a ball-hawking defense that has emerged as one of the better units in the league when healthy. The Browns have yielded less than 300 total yards in five consecutive games. It all came together Sunday in the first game in which all the defensive starters were available.
The victory was meaningful psychologically for the young Browns. Coach Pat Shurmur reminded the rookies that they are now 1-0 against a Steelers team against which the Browns would like to re-establish a rivalry. The defeat was meaningful in a far more tangible way for the Steelers (6-5), who must recover to remain in the playoff race.
“This was an ugly performance,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin lamented. “We own it. But if you turn the ball over the way we did today, you're not going to beat anybody. … We were going to play people who can secure the football. But after everybody [turns the ball over] there aren't many choices left. I'm surprised it was that close, given the turnover situation.”
It was that close because the Browns continue to struggle moving the ball consistently. But they're not complaining. A division win and their third victory in the last four home games trumps style points every time. New owner Jimmy Haslam spoke about the importance of the win in the locker room following the game.
“The biggest thrill was seeing who was leaving early,” he said in reference to the thousands of Steelers fans exiting the stadium. “It was great to see our crowd. It was a tremendous crowd and they were standing and cheering.”
When the game turned: It never really turned because the Browns offense refused to put it away. Their win was clinched when Chris Rainey became the fourth Steelers running back to fumble with 2:25 remaining. Rainey was spun around by cornerback Joe Haden and stripped by middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor recovered, allowing the offense to run all but 19 seconds off the clock. Game over.
Highlight moments: Browns featured back Trent Richardson (29-85) struggled to break one against a stout Pittsburgh defense, but he did bolt up the middle for a 15-yard touchdown in the third quarter that put his team ahead to stay. “It was a counter play,” he said. “[Tight end] Alex Smith pulled around and hit the dude straight in the mouth. I knew then it was going to be a touchdown. I just ran right past him.”
Perfect coverage from Haden, who said this was his biggest win as a Brown, also contributed to a highlight play with three minutes left in the game. He blanketed fleet wide receiver Mike Wallace and intercepted a pass from quarterback Charlie Batch. Haden also tipped a Batch pass earlier in the quarter that resulted in an interception for defensive end Billy Winn.
- Browns MLB D'Qwell Jackson -- 9 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery.
- Browns CB Joe Haden -- Held Mike Wallace to one catch, 1 INT.
- Steelers LB Jason Worilds -- 11 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 QB hits.
- Browns RB Trent Richardson -- 85 yards rushing, 1TD
What they said about the Joe Haden INT on a bomb to Wallace:
- Browns CB Joe Haden -- “It was man-to-man coverage. Mike is so fast. I got a good jam on him and felt like I had controlled the route. He went deep and I was just standing on top of him and made a play.”
What they said about the eight turnovers::
- Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson -- “I've never been part of a defense like that.
- Browns CB Sheldon Brown -- “It's unheard of.”
- Browns CB Joe Haden -- It's something that we emphasized the whole week. In practice it was about interceptions and getting the ball back to the offense. T.J. (Ward) was coming in there just hitting people so hard and everybody was just hawking around the ball. The defense was stepping up and doing our thing.”
- Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall -- “I can't tell you. I don't have the answer for what happened, but I know it shouldn't happen and we can't put the ball on the ground.”
- Steelers QB Charlie Batch -- “That's something that is unheard of. … We turned the ball over with us being in position to win the football game. It's not solely on one position.”
What they said about the first career TD for TE Jordan Cameron:
- Browns TE Jordan Cameron -- “If there was safety help [QB Brandon Weeden] was going to go to someone else. He put it in a place where I could get to it and I was able to hold on.”
Numbers you should know: The eight turnovers forced by the Browns were the most in a game since 1989. … The Browns held the Steelers to just 49 rushing yards on 20 carries. … Struggling Browns P Reggie Hodges averaged just 38.3 yards on 10 punts, but did kick five inside the Steelers 20. … Newly acquired Pittsburgh WR Plaxico Burress was held without a catch, but he did force a pass interference call in the end zone that led to a touchdown with time running out in the first half.
Injuries: Browns -- Weeden left the game late in the fourth quarter with a concussion, believed to be suffered when he banged his head off the knee of LT Joe Thomas. The extent of the injury remains undisclosed. Coach Pat Shurmur would only say he was treated for a concussion. … Steelers -- LB LaMarr Woodley and OT Mike Adams both left with ankle injuries. Coach Mike Tomlin said they were being evaluated and he would fill the media in on the results of those evaluations on Tuesday.
Going forward: Browns -- If the Browns can't find their offense next week in Oakland, they never will. The Raiders might have the worst defense in the NFL right now, especially against the pass. It remains to be seen if the Browns will be forced to play that game without Weeden. Jackson said he wouldn't be surprised if the Browns won out and finished 8-8. That seems unduly optimistic. Steelers -- QB Ben Roethlisberger can't come back too soon and he might be back for the showdown next Sunday in Baltimore. A division title seems out of reach, but the Steelers would certainly need to win to keep strong playoff hopes alive.
Stay dialed in on the Cleveland Browns on Twitter at @CBSBrowns throughout the season with on-site updates from CBSSports.com RapidReports correspondent Marty Gitlin.