Steelers Suffer Stunning 48-37 Wild Card Loss to Browns

There are lots of certainties in life: Death, taxes, and the Pittsburgh Steelers mastery over the Cleveland Browns at home and in the playoffs. Well, the certainty about that Steelers mastery changed when they hosted the Browns for a Sunday Night Wild Card Playoff game as the Browns pulled off the unthinkable in a huge 48-37 upset over the Steelers at Heinz Field. Not only was it their first road win over the Steelers since 2003 (33-13) but it is also the first time the Browns beat the Steelers in the postseason. In their history, the Steelers played the Browns 2 times and beat them both: In 1994 (29-9) and the 36-33 thriller in 2002.

 

“Not a lot to say. We didn’t perform well enough tonight. Not coaching, not playing.” Said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “You can chalk it up to the turnover game. But we weren’t good enough in a lot of other areas, communication, in terms of detail. Just not a good night for us. In the single elimination tournaments, when you don’t have a good night, you go home. We understand that. Tip our caps to those guys, congratulate them. They did, we didn’t.”

And to make matters worse, it was how the Steelers lost. On their first drive, Steelers All-Pro C Maurkise Pouncey snapped the ball completely over QB Ben Roethlisberger’s head and as he and RB failed to fall on the ball, it rolled into the end zone and Browns S Karl Joseph fell on it, giving them a 7-0 lead.

 

Such a start can set the tone not just for the game, but for the team it happened to. Such was the case for the Steelers as it seemed to knock them off their equilibrium as they Browns punched them in the mouth en-route to a 28-0 lead-in the first quarter. QB Baker Mayfield (21-34, 263 yards, 3 TDs) would find WR Jarvis Landry (5 Rec, 92 yads) for a 40-yard TD and after Roethlisberger threw an interception, Browns RB Kareem Hunt (8 carries, 48 yards) would score 2 consecutive TDs.

The Browns 28-0 lead set an NFL record for the most points to start a game in NFL history.

 


Meanwhile, the Steelers looked like something out of the Keystone Cops, or even how they used to play against the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots: Lost and confused. On offense, they could not get past the 50-yard line as Roethlisberger would throw 2 more interceptions. And on defense, they could not tackle, and All-Pro LB TJ Watt, Pro-Bowl DT Cam Heyward and DE Stephon Tuitt failed to get a single sack as Mayfield and the Browns successfully neutralized the Steelers pass-rush.

The Browns showed up for this game, the Steelers did not.

The Steelers finally got on the board in the 2nd quarter on a 1-yard TD by RB James Conner. But Mayfield and the Browns struck again as he found TE Austin Hooper for an 11-yard TD to make it 35-7 at halftime.

“You know, I wasn’t worried about them being focused, trying to come back in terms of our urgency and things. But it does change the climate of the game in terms of opportunities, opportunities for splash, the nature in which they play, the nature in which we have to play.” Said Tomlin. “You lose balance, you miss opportunities for splash from the other side because they hide the ball, et cetera. It doesn’t bode well when you spot people points, particularly the way we did it tonight. It made the journey a difficult one.”

Historically, it had been a long time since the Steelers would just lay flat and not show any kind of spark for an entire game, and in the 3rd quarter, they showed those sparks as Roethlisberger led the Steelers on consecutive drives which cut the Browns lead to 35-23 at the end of the 3rd quarter. There was a glimmer of hope going into the 4th, but the Browns ended that possibility as they scored 13 points to seal the victory. They Steelers did score 13 more points, but it was too little, too late. The Browns will travel to Kansas City to play the AFC top-seeded Chiefs, while the Steelers will see their season end after starting 11-0, their best start in Franchise history.

“Just hurt for the guys in the locker room. Not only put forth a great effort tonight but put forth great effort all year, not only in terms of the ball but the things that came with the ball, the things we asked them to do, the things that the present circumstance asked them to do in terms of COVID protocol, all that.”-Said Tomlin.

 

Roethlisberger passed for 501 yards and 4 TDs, but his 4 interceptions hurt the Steelers. Smith- Shuster (13 Rec, 157 yards, TD), Diontae Johnson (11 Rec, 117 yards) James Washington (5 Rec, 72 yards, Chase Claypool (5 rec, 59 yards, 2 TDs) and TE Eric Ebron (7 rec, 62 yards, TD) put up the stats, but it was not enough for the Steelers.

Many can point to the Steelers being worn out and gassed because of the NFL making adjustments to their schedule, or the season-ending injuries to LBs Devin Bush and Bud Dupree. Maybe it was their struggles in their running game. Whatever the reason, the Steelers 2020 season ended on a sour note and with an uncertain offseason in which the front-office must make salary-cap moves which may determine what this team will look like in the 2021 season.

One thing for certain, in 2021, Tomlin and the Steelers will show that they can rebound from this.

Notes: When Roethlisberger was asked about his thoughts on his future with the Steelers, he replied “It’s going to start between me and God, a lot of praying. A lot of talking with my family, discussions, decisions. I still have a year left on my contract. I hope the Steelers want me back, if that’s the way we go. There will be a lot of discussions. But now is not the time for that.”

Please e-mail Ray at rayporterjr72@gmail.com

Follow him @RP2872_JR on Twitter

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