The Steelers just had about as bad a half as they could have, and yet it’s only 14-0. But there are no indications that it will get any better. Both James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster have already been ruled out for the rest of the game, leaving the offense in the hands of James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Johnny Holton, Tevin Jones, Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, Tony Brooks-James, Vance McDonald, and Nick Vannett. That’s literally the entirety of the list of skill position players available, unless you want to include Zach Banner.
The defense has had its ups and downs, getting pressure but not getting home, and now allowing two passing plays of 40-plus yards. They’ve allowed some big third-down conversions, and haven’t been able to take the ball away, though Steven Nelson–who was beat by Odell Beckham for a 42-yarder to the one–threatened a pick six, if not for Jarvis Landry batting the ball away.
Baker Mayfield ran the ball in from the one following that Beckham catch, and Landry has a touchdown reception after being left uncovered at the goal line. The Steelers have a missed field goal from the 44. The Browns also have a miss from 45.
A pair of Nick Chubb rushes picked up a first first down for the Browns to start the half. At the 40, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt combined for a tackle for loss one play later. On second and 13, it was Cameron Heyward with the stop after two, with Javon Hargrave also in there. Facing third and 11, the Steelers did a great job of reading the screen, Heyward chasing it down from the back side after just two yards to force a punt after one first down. Johnson back to return, but it rolled and died at the three. However, the gunner was the first to touch the ball after running out of bounds. Downed inside the five, by rule, the Steelers were able to opt to take a touchback on the illegal touching penalty. Good turn of events for Pittsburgh there.
And so on the first offensive play of the half, Samuels was thrown down for a loss of half a yard looking to get out to the left side. Finally a draw worked for Samuels, able to get 11 for a first down. Edmunds checked in for the next series. At the 31, off a half-hearted play action, Washington couldn’t hold on to a short pass that would’ve gotten about four. Looking for Jones, Rudolph’s throw was behind the receiver and picked by a sliding Joe Schobert, his first two-interception game of his career, now with six on the year. Things continue to get worse and worse and worse and worse and worse.
Threatening pressure all night, T.J. Watt finally got home for a the sack, his 10th and a half on the year, for a loss of four. Chubb got seven on second down. Mayfield’s third-down pass was off the line looking for Landry on a corner route, seemingly not on the same page, with Mike Hilton in coverage, so a three-and-out after the turnover.
Diontae Johnson took an ugly and unnecessary shot to the head following an incomplete deep pass from Browns safety Damarious Randall. I would consider an ejection for that hit.
And now he was ejected. I think it was the right call. It was a completely unnecessary hit that came after the play was clearly incomplete. He lowered his helmet and made direct head-to-head contact. It’s also part of a pattern of helmet-to-helmet hits by Browns defenders that have been consistent throughout the night. Johnson was bleeding out of his right ear from the hit.
After the penalty, Rudolph found Washington for a first-down completion. There was also an illegal hands to the face penalty on Larry Ogunjobi.
From midfield now, Edmunds was bottled up following a three-yard gain. Short pass to McDonald for six, setting up yet another third and one. Following a false start, an illegal contact penalty threw the Steelers a lifeline on an incomplete pass.
From the 41, Rudolph took a shot looking for Holton, who once again could not come up with the ball despite rising up to get it, but Greedy Williams was flagged for pass interference, never turning to look for the ball and just jumping in to the receiver’s frame.
That 38-yard penalty puts the Steelers at the three, the first time they’ve been anywhere near there on the night. On first down, Rudolph overthrew McDonald in the left corner, well out of bounds. On second down, he was able to check the ball down to Samuels, who had the left sideline open for the touchdown. It’s his second score of the year, the game now 14-7, which feels somewhat miraculous at this point with a little over 20 to play.
Watt got pressure on Mayfield again on their next play from scrimmage, seemingly hitting his arm as he threw for an incompletion. Watt looks ready to run through a wall. Hunt picked up four or five on the ground to set up third and medium. Mayfield was able to find Hunt for the first out of the slot working against Cameron Sutton.
From the 42, Chubb got six up the middle. Hunt picked up five off the right side across midfield, as the Browns begin moving again. Now third and six after two rushes by Chubb, beyond the 40, Mayfield was able to buy time under pressure, throwing on the run to find Landry for the big conversion, on the comeback against Joe Haden.
Chubb was stuffed again at the line of scrimmage on play later. Demetrious Harris was flagged for offensive pass interference working against Hilton down the seam, though they ended up calling the foul on both players to offset. Harris clearly initiated that exchange. Mike Pereira said he would have preferred only the call on Harris. Mayfield again under pressure by Watt this time had to throw the ball away. Watt has been feasting on Chris Hubbard all night. Now third and 10, from the 31, Mayfield threw for Beckham in the end zone, but nobody was looking for the ball. Steven Nelson was in coverage and also not looking for the ball, actually trailing on the play. The Browns missed their second field goal of the night, this from 50-plus, from their rookie kicker, as the Steelers look to tie the game, beginning the drive from the 40.
And quickly, Rudolph finds Washington getting open for 19, down to the Browns’ 41. He was off the mark looking for Holton down to the left pylon. His arm was hooked, but there was no call. Edmunds picked up about nine yards up the middle on second down, to put the ball at the 32 and set up a third and one. The only conversion came on a sneak. A long one here, Rudolph took a shot for Holton, who was definitely held by Williams, who stretched out and nearly caught the ball. Chalked up to ‘handfighting’. The Steelers went for it again on fourth and one, and once again failed to convert. In fact, Rudolph nearly threw an interception right into the chest of Chad Thomas, who recorded the strip sack against him. So they pass up the long field goal attempt and give the Browns to ball at the 32 after taking over at the 40.
Chubb picked up seven on first down to the 40, but was wrestled down for no gain to set up third and three. Another big moment here. Bud Dupree came up with the big play, tearing down Hunt for a loss, great leg tackle. Fantastic job by the fifth-year man, a loss of two to force a punt. Sutton returned, the punt, fielded inside the five, and returned to the 12, with a little over 10 minutes to go.
Holton dropped a ball off his chest on a deep shot down the right sideline on first down. He gunned a quick pass to Jones to pick up eight, putting them in a manageable third-down position…for a team who was competent at running third-and-short situations. Mack Wilson broke up a sideline pass for Samuels to force the three-and-out, deep in their own end. Berry saw his punt roll to the 27, a 53-yard net.
A quick one to Beckham gets 10. Chubb was held to three on first down. He found a little room up the middle for four yards, but sets up another third down, this needing three. Hunt got that and more, across midfield.
Mayfield threw incomplete on first down. With Hilton blitzing on second down, he checked down to Hunt, and Devin Bush was able to chase him down for a loss. Now third and 11, yet another big moment with under seven minutes to play, Mayfield’s pass completely sailed on him out of bounds. Nelson dove for the ball anyway, and stayed down for a bit. Not sure if he came up lame or was just remaining down. But they did force a punt after a couple of first downs. This time the punt was downed inside the 10, with 6:32 to play.
Starting from the nine, Rudolph threw a direct interception to Schobert, his second interception of the night, and with eyes for a pick six, but it was Rudolph who made the tackle, clearly angry with himself and wrestling the linebacker down at the four. He’s now thrown three interceptions on the night, all his fault, clearly his worst game of his young career.
At the four, Mayfield threw a fade to Beckham, fielding the ball but out of bounds. On second and goal, Chubb was stuffed for a loss by a swarm of defenders. Mayfield’s third-down pass from the eight ended with a remarkable catch by Stephen Carlson, the Princeton rookie, who jumped over the top of Mark Barron at the back of the end zone. He literally caught it on Barron’s helmet. And that will do it, as the Steelers’ winning streak is all but snapped at four, now down 14 with a little over five minutes to play.
Samuels picked up seven on a short pass to start the Steelers’ drive after the turnover. Rudolph took off running for the first time for 13 yards. The Steelers got a break with the clock stopped for an injury for the Browns. Schobert broke up a short pass to McDonald, and then Rudolph was nearly intercepted by Denzel Ward overthrowing Holton. On third and 15, following a delay of game, Holton got his first catch as a Steeler and came up with the conversion.
At the 42, Rudolph sailed a ball over the head of McDonald, intercepted by Justin Burris, the backup, backup safety, Rudolph now doubling his interception total on the night. Things continue to spiral out of control for the young quarterback, who is clearly flustered, and again in on the tackle.
Chubb surpassed 1000 rushing yards on the ground on the Browns’ following drive. Now inside the 40, he picked up another seven to the right, tackled by the Vince Williams. After the two-minute warning, Hunt was stuffed on second down, the Steelers using their second timeout for a third and five. he was stuffed again for a loss, Hargrave in on both of the last two plays, as Tomlin uses his final timeout with 1:47 to go, and down two touchdowns.
Rudolph worked the checkdown to his running backs following a punt, but then was brought down by Ogunjobi for a sack for a loss of 10. As the clock ticks under a minute, the blitz came and he went down again, Schobert on the sack. As if it wasn’t already over…it’s over. They blitzed two for Edmunds. On third and 29, he barely got the ball out to Edmunds.
A major fight broke out afterward, with Rudolph’s helmet ripped off. Maurkice Pouncey took multiple full-body swings at a Browns player on the ground as the linemen worked to protect their quarterback. Myles Garrett was the instigator, after the play. I have absolutely no idea what Garrett was thinking. Disgusting, disgusting, horrible behavior. If he’s not suspended, then the league is a joke. He literally swung and hit Rudolph IN THE HEAD with his own helmet. That is a crime.