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Duck Mania is alive and well in Pittsburgh.
Led by undrafted rookie quarterback Devlin "Duck" Hodges, the Steelers overcame a 10-0 deficit to defeat the Browns 20-13 Sunday at Heinz Field. With the win, the Steelers -- 7-5 after a 1-4 start -- remain on the inside track in the AFC playoff picture. Conversely, the Browns, who entered Sunday's game with a three-game winning streak, are 5-7 and will need to win out to have any remote chance at making the playoffs.
Two weeks after losing to the Browns in Cleveland, the Steelers evened the season series by holding the Browns to 279 total yards. On offense, Pittsburgh gained 323 yards despite running just four plays from scrimmage during the first quarter. After the Browns won both battles at the line of scrimmage in the first half, the Steelers flipped the script in the second half, as Pittsburgh received stellar blocking from their offensive line and equally impressive play from their front seven during the game's final 30 minutes.
Here's a look at how the Steelers were able to pull off the come-from-behind victory.
Why the Steelers won
The Steelers' defense continues to be lights out. For a second time in three weeks, the Steelers' defense held Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield to under 200 passing yards. Pittsburgh's defense also put consistent pressure on Mayfield, with T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Cam Sutton, Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave combining to sack Mayfield five times. Pittsburgh's defense also forced two critical turnovers that included former Brown Joe Haden's game-sealing interception with just over a minute left.
Pittsburgh's offense was led by receiver James Washington, whose receptions of 31, 30 and 44 yards helped the offense overcome their slow start. His first big catch set up Chris Boswell's first of two field goals, while his second big play tied the score before halftime. His third deep catch from Hodges set up rookie running back Benny Snell's one-yard touchdown run that gave Pittsburgh its first lead midway through the third quarter.
Hodges, who is now 2-0 as a starter, out-played Mayfield, completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 212 yards despite playing without receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner. He received solid protection from Pittsburgh's offensive line that also paved the way for Snell and a rushing attack that gained 132 yards on 24 carries.
Why the Browns lost
A lack of third-down success (Cleveland was 4-of-12 on third down), pre-snap penalties and two costly turnovers were among the biggest reasons why the Browns were unable to complete a season sweep of the Steelers for the first time since 1988. The Browns' futility on Sunday can be best summarized by what happened after cornerback Terrance Mitchell's interception gave the Browns the ball inside Steelers territory with a chance to tie the score with 5:35 left. Instead of tying the score, the Browns came up empty when Hargrave was able to sack Mayfield on third down while knocking Cleveland out of field goal range.
Questionable play-calling was also a reason why the Browns failed to get their first win in Pittsburgh since 2003. While the Browns had success on the ground and on intermediate post patterns (especially early in the game), they ran the ball just 24 times against a Pittsburgh run defense that allowed 104 rushing yards. Cleveland also ran too many "gimmick" plays that often resulted in negative plays.
Cleveland's defense also played a major role in the loss. While they were unable to provide consistent pressure on Hodges, the Browns also struggled against Pittsburgh's 25th ranked rushing attack, allowing the Steelers to rush for 124 yards and a score on 32 carries.
The Steelers' offense was literally stuck in the mud before Washington's 31-yard catch set up Boswell's second-quarter field goal. His remarkable touchdown reception -- that included pass interference from the Browns' secondary -- tied the score at halftime while shifting the game's momentum.
Play of the game
While Washington's touchdown reception was impressive, his 44-yard catch at the start of the fourth quarter set up Snell's go-ahead touchdown. Washington, who caught just 16 passes during a disappointing rookie season, has caught touchdowns in three of Pittsburgh's last four games while emerging as the Steelers' best offensive player with Conner and Smith-Schuster out of the lineup.
Also in the running for the game's best play was Dupree's third-quarter sack and forced fumble of Mayfield that set up Boswell's second field goal that stretched Pittsburgh's lead to ten points. Dupree, who is set to be a free agent this offseason, has a career-high 8.5 sacks this season after recording 1.5 sacks on Sunday.
"We're looking to strike a blow for team in these circumstances, to stand up for the game of football and team and prove that guys can make plays when given an opportunity. One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity, the standard is the standard, they made all these cliches true." -- Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, whose offense was playing without Smith-Schuster, James Conner and center Maurkice Pouncey
"He didn't kill us." -- Tomlin said with a laugh when asked about the play of Hodges. Tomlin made headlines when he said that earlier this week when asked about his change at the quarterback position.
The Steelers will head to Arizona next Sunday to take on a Cardinals team that is playing better than their 3-7-1 record indicates. The Cardinals -- led by rookie quarterback Kyler Murray -- nearly led the Cardinals to two victories over the 49ers earlier this season. The Browns will now prepare to host the Bengals, who upset the Jets on Sunday to win their first game of the season.
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