Baker Mayfield had 10 straight incompletions and four passes batted at the line of scrimmage in the first half. (Cleveland Browns)
Browns embarrass selves in 26-14 loss in Ben's Heinz Field finale
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Instant takeaways from Browns’ 26-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers …
1. Be gone: It’s probably better that the Browns were eliminated from the postseason on Sunday. Imagine how painful it would have been to see them bow one last time to Ben Roethlisberger if a playoff spot were riding on it. Still, they gave Big Ben a parting gift by losing to him for the 26th time in his last Steelers game in Heinz Field. The score was 26-14, Steelers. It was a nightmare for Kevin Stefanski and Baker Mayfield, who together set back offensive football to the 1-31 era of Hue Jackson or any other era of Browns ineptitude. Stefanski’s pass-first strategy backfired again as Mayfield suffered yet another worst-ever game. He was sacked nine times, intercepted twice, had five balls rejected at the line of scrimmage and in one stretch tossed 10 consecutive incompletions. Four of the sacks were turned in by T.J. Watt, who ended the game with an NFL-high 21.5. Roethlisberger departed a victor for the 13th time in 14 games against the Browns in Heinz Field. The win by the Steelers (8-7-1) kept alive their slim wild card hopes and assured the Browns (7-9) of a losing season.
2. Smh: The Steelers entered the game with the league’s worst defense against the run. Nick Chubb had a 32-yard run early in the game, but wound up with only 12 carries for 58 yards. Pittsburgh’s rookie back Najee Harris rushed 28 times for 188 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown with 51 seconds left. The Browns put up a touchdown with 1:10 left on a 1-yard Mayfield toss to Harrison Bryant, culminating a 17-play drive. Mayfield finished 16 of 39 for 185 yards, two TDs and two interceptions. Roethlisberger threw 46 times, completing 24 for only 123 yards and one TD. He didn't have to do much as the Browns were their worst enemy.
3. Finally: The Browns were scoreless until the final minute of the third quarter. They benefitted from a short field when Jadeveon Clowney’s sack of Roethlisberger at the 1 prompted a punt from the back line of the end zone that was nearly blocked by Willie Harvey. Mayfield took over at the Steelers’ 48. On first down, Mayfield connected with Donovan Peoples-Jones on a crossing pattern that went for 39 yards. Mayfield tossed the touchdown on a fade to David Njoku over overmatched Joe Haden. The PAT closed the Pittsburgh lead to 13-7.
4. Not good: Mayfield’s first half of play might have been his worst yet. He was 4 of 15 for 58 yards, one interception, two sacks, with a passer rating of 15.4. In one stretch, Mayfield had 10 incompletions – the most by an NFL quarterback this season – and four passes deflected at the line of scrimmage. Mayfield’s interception came on a ball forced to Donovan Peoples-Jones with David Njoku open five yards underneath him. The only turnover in the first half resulted in a 22-yard Chris Boswell field goal and a 10-0 Steelers lead. The two sacks of Mayfield were registered by T.J. Watt, who beat right tackle James Hudson both times. The sacks gave Watt an NFL-high 19.5.
5. Where’s Chubb?: Nick Chubb’s 32-yard run on the Browns’ second possession was the longest play of the first half. Chubb carried only three other times for 3 yards the rest of the half. He was not on the field much of the second quarter.
6. Falling soldiers: Already down two starting safeties, the Browns lost cornerback Greedy Williams (shoulder) and safety Grant Delpit (knee) in the last seven minutes of the first half. Delpit was the victim of friendly fire when his knee was clipped by cornerback A.J. Green chasing Chase Claypool on a pass route. Delpit and Green did return. Green intercepted Roethlisberger on the last play of the first half.
7. Turn of the shoe: The Steelers’ first touchdown was helped by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jadeveon Clowney when he picked up Chase Claypool’s loose shoe after a third-down stop and tossed it down the field. Clowney was called to the sideline and received some words from Stefanski. The 15-yard penalty gave the Steelers a first down at the Browns’ 18. Three plays later Roethlisberger connected on a short slant to Diontae Johnson for a 5-yard touchdown. It broke a streak of five consecutive games by the Steelers without a touchdown in the first half. Clowney returned to the field on the next series and had a 10-yard sack of Roethlisberger on a three-and-out series.
8. Tough start: Tight end Austin Hooper had two Mayfield passes glance off his hands on the first offensive possession. On the second, Hooper’s false start turned a third-and-1 into third-and-6. After an incompletion, the Browns went for it on fourth down from the Steelers’ 37. Mayfield’s pass was batted down at the line by end Cameron Heyward.
9. Pre-game notes: Running back Kareem Hunt, who was questionable with an ankle injury, was made inactive and joined safety Ronnie Harrison (ankle), safety John Johnson (hamstring), cornerback Troy Hill (knee) and linebacker Mack Wilson (personal). Also inactive were quarterback Kyle Lauletta and guard Hjalte Froholdt. Cornerback Denzel Ward, who had two interceptions of Roethlisberger in his first NFL game in 2018, was named game captain.