Nick Chubb's second 100-yard game of the season included a 1-yard TD vault to give the Browns a 23-14 lead in the fourth quarter. (Cleveland Browns)
Browns rebound against Pittsburgh to claim first in AFC North
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Instant takeaways from Browns 29-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers …
1. Take that: The Browns won back their home crowd with a strong comeback from their Sunday debacle against the Jets. They turned back the Pittsburgh Steelers, 29-17, to claim first place in the AFC North with a 2-1 overall record. The rare win over the Steelers gave them a 1-0 record in the ever-important division race. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett has two more division games to go before Deshaun Watson returns and if he plays like he did Thursday night the Browns should be in good shape. Brissett was sharp, throwing touchdowns to Amari Cooper (101 yards) and David Njoku (89 yards) and converting three first downs with aggressive QB sneaks, one of which brought out his emotions with a punch to the air. Nick Chubb surpassed 100 yards rushing for the second time in three games and scored on a 1-yard vault in a ultra-jumbo formation with offensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt playing fullback. The Browns won despite a missed PAT and some other special teams mis-haps. Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky made it interesting with a snappy field-goal drive that closed the lead to one score with 1:48. They had to survive a Pittsburgh onside kick that Anthony Schwartz deflected out of bounds. The Steelers had one last chance from their 4-yard line with nine seconds left. A multi-lateral play resulted in a fumble recovery in the end zone by Denzel Ward.
2. Good response: After the Browns made a defensive stop on Pittsburgh’s first offensive series of the second half, Brissett responded with a 14-play drive. It stopped at the Steelers’ 16 with three Brissett incompletions, the last a drop in the middle of the field by Kareem Hunt. Cade York’s redemptive field goal from 34 yards regained the lead for the Browns at 16-14.
3. Ouch: On the Browns’ first defensive series, they lost both starting linebackers. Anthony Walker had to be carted off the field with a knee injury. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah left with a quad injury.
4. Yikes: The Browns blew a scoring opportunity with 27 seconds left in the first half when Brissett’s fourth-down pass for Amari Cooper was ruled incomplete at the Steelers’ 28 on replay review. Cooper lost the ball when his right elbow hit the ground. Stefanski eschewed a 49-yard field goal into the closed end for the fourth-and-2 pass play. Cade York missed a PAT after the Browns’ second touchdown when the wind blew the ball into the right upright. Earlier, Chris Boswell’s 49-yard field goal try was blown wide right to the same closed end. Still, York’s PAT miss was the difference in a 14-13 Steelers’ lead.
5. Scoring-fest: Scoring was brisk despite 21 mph wind gusts. The Browns scored on a Brissett 11-yard throw to Cooper on a skinny slant and a 7-yard zipline throw to David Njoku from 7 yards. The latter play came out of the three-tight end formation. Njoku had seven catches for 69 yards. Nick Chubb had 58 yards rushing on eight carries. Left guard Joel Bitonio made two big blocks on the TD drives pulling to his right, one on a 36-yard Chubb run and the other on a 6-yarder by Hunt.
6. Ward targeted: Denzel Ward Tweeted on Monday that he was targeted only one time in the Jets’ game, despite a poor grade received by an analytics Website. Well, the Steelers must not be on social media. Trubisky aggressively targeted Ward five times in the first half. Diontae Johnson caught four of the passes for 48 yards. The Steelers’ TDs came on a 5-yard run by a rejuvenated Najee Harris and a 1-yard run by Trubisky on which he out-raced John Johnson to the right edge and ducked under Emerson at the goal line. Good half for Trubisky (9 of 13 for 109 yards and the TD run).
7. Splendid sprinter: Steelers rookie receiver George Pickens Velcro’d a Trubisky pass with his right hand over cornerback M.J. Emerson, good for 36 yards down the right sideline. Pickens said this week he’s been open 90 percent of the time despite being targeted only six times in two games. Well, he wasn’t even open there and he made an acrobatic grab. Guy looks special.
8. Those (un) special teams: Corey Bojorquez’s second punt traveled 25 yards after it was deflected by Miles Killebrew. Browns linebacker Tony Fields actually was holding Killebrew at the time. After Pittsburgh’s first touchdown, Chris Bowell’s short popup kickoff bounced of David Bell’s hands. Bell recovered at the 21-yard line. On another Pittsburgh kickoff, Jerome Ford hesitated three yards deep in the end zone, then returned it to the 12.
9. Out: Just before kickoff, Browns announced safety Ronnie Harrison was questionable with a hamstring injury. He did not make it back.
10. Pre-game notes: Punt returner Demetric Felton was among the players inactive. Chester Rogers, elevated from the practice squad, took over as punt returner. Other game roster moves of note: Jack Conklin was back at right tackle for the first time since suffering a patella tendon injury on Nov. 28, 2021, and running back D’Ernest Johnson was made active for the first time this season. All four Browns running backs were active. Other inactives: Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, offensive tackle Chris Hubbard, offensive tackle Joe Haeg, safety Richard LeCounte, receiver Michael Woods and quarterback Kellen Mond.