Steelers at Browns score: Pittsburgh beats Cleveland in defensive battle, moves back above .500

Ben Roethlisberger screamed in jubilation after the Steelers came to Cleveland and left with a 15-10 win over the Browns. Despite a hard-hitting Browns defense as well as the loss of kicker Chris Boswell in the first half, Pittsburgh overcame a 10-3 deficit to record its third consecutive victory and first in Cleveland since 2017. The game undoubtedly served as pseudo vindication for Roethlisberger and the Steelers, who fell to the Browns at home in January's wild card playoff game. 

With the score tied 3-3, Boswell was lost for the game when he was drilled by defensive tackle Jordan Elliott on a fake field goal attempt just before halftime. The Browns then took the lead on D'Ernest Johnson's 10-yard touchdown run on the first possession of the second half. Pittsburgh responded with Najee Harris' 8-yard touchdown run, but the Browns retained the lead after stopping the Steelers' two-point conversion attempt. 

The only score in the fourth quarter came when Roethlisberger hit rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth for a 2-yard score on fourth-and-goal. Pittsburgh's defense then came up with two key stops before Diontae Johnson's 50-yard catch-and-run sealed the Steelers' fourth win of the season. The Steelers are above .500 for the first time since Week 1, while the Browns fell to 4-4 and in last place in the AFC North. 

Here's a closer look at what transpired Sunday in Cleveland. 

Why the Steelers won 

Pittsburgh received a herculean effort by its defense, which held the Browns to their lowest scoring output since Week 10 of the 2020 season. Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt combined to make one of the unit's first big plays when they tackled Nick Chubb for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 on the first drive of the second quarter. Shortly after the Steelers took the lead, former Brown Joe Schobert ended Cleveland's scoring threat with his forced fumble of former teammate Jarvis Landry deep in Pittsburgh territory. On the Browns' final offensive possession, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick broke up Baker Mayfield's fourth-down pass to Landry.

Offensively, the Steelers achieved near perfect offensive balance with 37 pass attempts and 32 running plays. They received a gritty effort from Roethlisberger, who completed 64.7% of his throws for 266 yards. His favorite target was Johnson, who finished the game with 98 yards on six catches. Pittsburgh's still-improving offensive line did a solid job protecting Roethlisberger. It also helped open holes for Harris, who enjoyed his best day as a pro after running for 91 yards and catching three passes for 29 yards.

The win was Roethlisberger's 50th against Ohio teams. A native of Findlay, Ohio, Roethlisberger previously held the record for the most wins by a starting quarterback in FirstEnergy Stadium. The win prevented the Steelers from losing three straight against the Browns for the first time since the 1988-89 seasons. 

Why the Browns lost 

The Browns' offense should take the brunt of the blame for Sunday's loss. The unit was just 3 of 10 on third down, as the Browns controlled the ball for just 17 minutes during the game's final three quarters after having possession for more than 11 minutes in the first half. Cleveland failed to take advantage of its formidable rushing attack, as the Browns finished with 96 yards on just 23 carries. Sunday marked only the second time this year where the Browns failed to gain at least 100 yards on the ground.  

Cleveland's defense allowed just 15 points, but it failed to come up with big plays when needed most. Pittsburgh was 5 of 6 on third and fourth downs on its two second-half scoring drives. Needing a stop after Mayfield's fourth-down pass to Landry fell incomplete, Roethlisberger's 50-yard completion to Johnson essentially ended the contest.  

The Browns also failed to get former Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr. involved in the offense. Beckham caught his only target for 6 yards, prompting CBS Sports NFL analyst Nate Burleson to speculate about Beckham possibly being traded before Tuesday's deadline. 

Turning point 

The Steelers appeared to have all the momentum near the end of the first half. But that momentum appeared to be gone after Pittsburgh's fake field goal attempt blew up in its face. But after the Browns took the lead on Johnson's third-quarter touchdown, the Steelers responded with a 12-play, 78-yard drive that was capped off by Harris' touchdown run. After a quick three-and-out by its defense, Pittsburgh took the lead for good on its ensuing possession. 

Play of the game 

With Boswell out, the Steelers had no choice but to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard-line with 11:09 left and trailing 10-9. Roethlisberger pumped the ball before delivering a strike to Freiermuth, who pulled the ball in while getting both feet in bounds. 

Schobert's huge defensive play also deserves mention, as the former Pro Bowl linebacker's strip of Landry abruptly ended a promising Browns drive late in the game. Schobert's forced fumble was scooped up by Watt, who also recorded 1.5 sacks of Mayfield. 

Quotable 

"I just have so much respect for that man. He's such a good football player. I told him to keep doing it the way he's been doing it. He does it the right way. … I meant to tell him he can keep my tombstone or whatever. I'll just keep my 'W'".  -- Roethlisberger to CBS Sports lead reporter Tracy Wolfson on what he said to Myles Garrett following Sunday's game. 

What's next 

The Browns will travel south to take on the 5-3 Bengals who stubbed their toe Sunday in New York against the Jets. Pittsburgh has two consecutive home games on the slate, starting on Monday night against the Chicago Bears. The Bears dropped to 3-5 on the season following Sunday's 33-22 loss to the 49ers. 

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CLE -5, O/U 43

Season Leaders

passing
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B. Roethlisberger3740 YD, 22 TDS, 10 INTS
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B. Roethlisberger3740 YD, 22 TDS, 10 INTS
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B. Mayfield3010 YD, 17 TDS, 13 INTS
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B. Mayfield3010 YD, 17 TDS, 13 INTS
rushing
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N. Harris307 ATT, 1200 YD, 7 TDS
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N. Harris307 ATT, 1200 YD, 7 TDS
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N. Chubb228 ATT, 1259 YD, 8 TDS
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N. Chubb228 ATT, 1259 YD, 8 TDS
receiving
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D. Johnson107 REC, 1161 YD, 8 TDS
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D. Johnson107 REC, 1161 YD, 8 TDS
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D. Peoples-Jones34 REC, 597 YD, 3 TDS
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D. Peoples-Jones34 REC, 597 YD, 3 TDS
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@steelers via Twitter
October 31, 2021, 8:56 PM
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@Browns via Twitter
October 31, 2021, 8:19 PM
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@Browns via Twitter
October 31, 2021, 8:01 PM
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@steelers via Twitter
October 31, 2021, 7:59 PM
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Fantastic play to Diontae Johnson for what could be the game-clinching first down.

October 31, 2021, 7:59 PM
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Mayfield's fourth down pass to Landry was incomplete, good coverage by Minkah Fitzpatrick. Browns still in this, as they have all three of their timeouts left. 

October 31, 2021, 7:57 PM
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@steelers via Twitter
October 31, 2021, 7:57 PM
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Hooper makes the catch but is well short of the first down. Looks like Browns won't entertain the thought of a FG attempt, as Mayfield still on the field. 

October 31, 2021, 7:53 PM
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Higgins jumps offsides, so now Browns facing a third and 16. In the event they don't get the first down here, you'd think the Browns would kick the FG as they have 3 timeouts. 

October 31, 2021, 7:53 PM
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HIghsmith was a late hit on Mayfield moves the ball 15 yards. Highsmith makes up for it with a nice tackle on Chubb on second-and-10. 

October 31, 2021, 7:52 PM
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Great tackle by Newsome to stop Johnson two yards shy of the first down. A first down there would have been huge for the Steelers. But instead the Browns get the ball at their own 40 after a bad punt by Harvin. 

October 31, 2021, 7:43 PM
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@Browns via Twitter
October 31, 2021, 7:43 PM
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Huge play, as former Brown Joe Schobert forces a fumble from former teammate Jarvis Landry. The fumble was picked up by T.J. Watt, as the Browns come up empty after reaching the Steelers' 24-yard-line. The Steelers ILBs have been much maligned this season but they come up with a big play here. 

October 31, 2021, 7:38 PM
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