The Pittsburgh defense roughed up Baker Mayfield in the first half as Mayfield threw two interceptions including one for a touchdown. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Instant takeaways from Browns’ 38-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers …
1. Heinz Field hex continues: It wasn’t a Steel Curtain that stopped the Browns’ league-leading running attack and AFC-leading scoring offense. It was more like a brick wall. Pittsburgh’s defensive front overwhelmed the Browns’ vaunted offensive line, stuffed backs Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson and made life miserable for Baker Mayfield. The Steelers retained first place in the AFC North with their fifth win in a row, 38-7, extending their winning streak over the Browns in Heinz Field to 17 torturous years. The Browns were down, 10-0, after Mayfield’s first pass was intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick and returned 33 yards for a touchdown. Mayfield failed to finish a game for the first time as Browns starting quarterback and was mercifully lifted by Kevin Stefanski after a fourth-and-1 carry by Hunt was stuffed for a 2-yard loss by the rabid Pittsburgh defensive front with 5:55 to go. After the Steelers extended their lead with Chase Claypool’s second touchdown – a 2-yard run – Stefanski inserted Case Keenum in the final minute of the third quarter. Mayfield, who wore a heavy Kevlar jacket to protect sore ribs, was 10 of 18 for 119 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked four times and hit about six other times by the Steelers’ No. 1-ranked defense. Ben Roethlisberger's record against the Browns rose to 24-2 overall (counting a relief win) and 13-0 in Heinz Field.
2. Sun will come up again: So the Browns have suffered convincing road losses to the AFC North powers, 38-6 to Baltimore in the season opener and 38-7 to Pittsburgh. After Sunday’s games, Pittsburgh is 5-0, Baltimore 5-1 and the Browns 4-2. Rematches in Cleveland come on Dec. 14 (Ravens) and Jan. 3 (Steelers).
3. Stopped cold: The matchup of the NFL’s top running game and top run defense was no match. Browns running backs Kareem Hunt (13 attempts, 40 yards) and D’Ernest Johnson (4 attempts, 1 yard) couldn’t muster anything beyond a 10-yard run by Hunt in the first quarter. Keenum, by the way, had no chance by the time he came in. He was 5 of 10 for 46 yards.
4. Mapletron: Steelers rookie receiver Chase Claypool was an offensive force. He had four catches on four targets for 74 yards – and two of them came within four yards of two touchdowns. He scored a touchdown on a 2-yard run to give him five over the past two games and six through his first five NFL games. Claypool’s nickname is derived by two factors – his physical dimensions resemble those of former Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron; and he’s a native of Canada (thus the maple reference).
5. Ouch: A horrible first half for the Browns’ offense ended with Mayfield getting drilled in the left side on a hit by Cameron Heyward. A similar shot to his already-tender right side might have knocked Mayfield out of the game right there. Rather than try a Hail Mary or set up a field goal with a quick out pass from the Browns’ 48, Stefanski conceded the half with a punt. Mayfield looked out of breath or in discomfort as he jogged off the field at halftime.
6. Eyeing a TD: The Browns were able to post a touchdown with 1:01 left in the half when Mayfield used his eyes to free up Rashard Higgins in the right corner of the end zone for a 13-yard TD. The Steelers’ defense broke the other way when Mayfield looked left after the snap. The 75-yard TD drive was aided by two Steelers penalties – an offside call on third-and-4, and a Joe Haden illegal contact foul on Odell Beckham Jr. deep in the Steelers’ field.
7. Not good: For the first half, the Browns were 1 of 7 on third down conversions as the Steelers turned two Mayfield interceptions into touchdowns, the first being a 33-yard Pick 6 by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Mayfield was 9 of 17 for 116 yards, and was sacked three times (one was a keeper for zero yards). Combined with the second half against the Colts, Mayfield’s numbers over his last four quarters were: 11 of 26 for 145 yards, one TD, four interceptions. The Browns’ offense scored 10 points in that stretch.
8. Ben Hur: The Browns’ defense did a good job on Roethlisberger to start the game, even though the Steelers jumped ahead, 10-0 on an opening field goal and the Fitzpatrick Pick 6. Roethlisberger came alive on his fourth series, completing five passes in a row. The fifth was a perfect throw to receiver Chase Claypool for a 36-yard gain v. Terrance Mitchell down to the 3. James Conner followed with the TD run on the next play.
9. Tension defused: Prior to the game, Myles Garrett visited with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, apparently to defuse the memory of last year’s incident with backup QB Mason Rudolph. Looked like a very friendly meeting, as Garrett and Tomlin shared a laugh shook hands. Garrett was quiet in the first half until he beat a triple team and sacked Roethlisberger with :44 left. Garrett opened the game lining up at left defensive end. He moved to right defensive end after two series. Rudolph entered the game for Roethlisberger with 6:07 left in the game. Stefanski wisely gave Garrett a breather for the rest of the day.
10. Pre-game notes: The Browns’ inactive list included four players previously ruled out. The healthy scratches were DE Joe Jackson and DT Vincent Taylor. Also, ESPN's Dianna Russini reported that owners of the Browns and Steelers had a phone conversation during the week about having a "zero tolerance policy" regarding any possible retaliation from either side in regards to last season's Myles Garrett-Mason Rudolph incident.