Wins Over The Steelers For The Browns Have Been Rare Of Late, And This One Seemed Sweeter Than Most

Jacoby Brissett showed emotion after converting a quarterback sneak for a first down deep in the Steelers end zone. (Cleveland Browns)

Jacoby Brissett showed emotion after converting a quarterback sneak for a first down deep in the Steelers end zone. (Cleveland Browns)

Wins over the Steelers for the Browns have been rare of late, and this one seemed sweeter than most

You must have an active subscription to read this story.

Click Here to subscribe Now!

Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.

Some day in the future the Browns might be able to breathe easy in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not yet. Certainly not Thursday night.

The final score of 29-17 did not reflect the tension in the task of victory for the Browns.

After all that transpired in the debacle loss to the Jets just four days earlier, the Browns still had to sweat out another onside kick to secure the must-have triumph.

Shut out during the second half, Mentor-native Mitch Trubisky came alive in the final three minutes to quarterback the Steelers to a short field goal to cut the Browns’ lead to 23-17 with 1:48 to go. Once again, a Cade York missed PAT was looming large.

As the Browns “hands team” lined up for the imminent onside kick, the memory of Sunday’s botched effort that led to the cataclysmic loss to the Jets weighed on everyone’s mind.

In fact, when asked after the game what he was thinking, coach Kevin Stefanski paused for several moments before answering, faintly, “A lot.”

This time, the Steelers squibbed the ball to the right. There was an anxious moment when Donovan Peoples-Jones failed to secure the ball near the right sideline, but Anthony Schwartz was able to bat it out of bounds.

That should have been it. But the Browns chose to punt from the Steelers’ 37-yard line with 14 seconds left and it left Trubisky with first-and-96 to go from the Pittsburgh 4. Given what happened four days earlier, who could exhale?

The Steelers tried for the miracle, multi-lateral play after a short completion and it resulted in a fumble in the end zone, which was recovered by cornerback Denzel Ward for the final gifted six points.

And only then were the demons of the Jets’ game exorcised, leaving the Browns free and easy in first place in the AFC North with a 2-1 overall record and 1-0 in the all-important division games.

“It’s kind of weird how the world works sometimes,” said guard Joel Bitonio, who had two massive blocks pulling to the right on runs by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt during two touchdown drives. 

“You put yourself in almost the same situation as last week. This time we get a way to execute. I wish we got a first down so we could have kneeled out the clock. Special teams did a lot better.”

So did the defense, which “over-communicated” to avoid the coverage busts of the first two games and held the Steelers to 1 of 9 on third-down conversions.

Although Diontae Johnson made eight catches on 11 targets against Ward, and rookie George Pickens made a preposterous, one-handed, Velcro grab over M.J. Emerson for 36 yards, the maligned Browns’ secondary responded well enough to hand a loss to Trubisky in his first game as a visitor in his home-town stadium. 

Trubisky held a 14-13 lead at halftime on two 75-yard scoring drives that ended with a 5-yard Najee Harris run and a very athletic 1-yard run by Trubisky.

Offensively, Jacoby Brissett was outstanding in doing something no Cleveland quarterback has done since Brady Quinn in 2009 – win in his first game against Pittsburgh.

Brissett shook off a slow start and finished 21 of 31 for 220 yards and touchdowns to Amari Cooper (7 of 11 for 101 yards) and David Njoku (9 of 10 for 89 yards). Brissett also converted three first downs with quarterback sneaks, the last of which covered six yards and resulted in Brissett punching the air with a clenched fist.

“I have never been able to do that in a game and every time I see a quarterback do that in a game, I am like, ‘Dang, that is so sick. I want to do that one time,’” Brissett said. “I told myself if I get a sneak, I am doing it. I almost blacked out.”

Brissett’s continued chemistry with Cooper, who became the first Cleveland receiver to post consecutive 100-yard receiving games since Josh Gordon in 2013, made everyone feel better about the Browns’ chances of staying competitive during Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension. 

Brissett has two more division games against Cincinnati and Baltimore before Watson returns. If he wins one more, he has pulled his weight.

But in the Steelers’ locker room, the talk was all about Nick Chubb. They were reverential in hailing Chubb as the key to their demise.

The running back fueled one touchdown drive with a 36-yard run and completed another with a 1-yard vault on fourth down behind a super-Jumbo formation that included sixth offensive lineman Michael Dunn as a tackle-eligible and a seventh, Hjalte Froholdt, as a 320-pound fullback. Chubb finished with 113 yards on 23 attempts, increasing his season total to 343 yards through three games.

“They did what they wanted to do,” said Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. “What they wanted to do was give Chubb the ball and he ran over 100 yards. When you let a guy like that do what he wants, they will win the game.”

Added Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, “If you can’t slow down Chubb, you can’t beat this group. Nick Chubb controlled the game.”

It was hailed as a “complete team victory” by the Browns, but the fact is the special teams still had some hiccups, such as a allowing a partially blocked punt, muffing one kickoff and returning another timidly from inside the end zone. On the other hand, punter Corey Bojorquez was clutch when he had to be, dropping two punts inside the Steelers' 20 in the fourth quarter.

York’s PAT miss doinked off the right upright when the winds were blowing everything north at the closed end zone.

So maybe not totally complete, but the triumph was hard-earned and sorely needed after a very difficult, short week.

“I am just proud of them because that is not an easy thing to bounce back from,” Stefanski said of the devastating loss to the Jets. “What I am proud of those guys is you can’t let a loss linger. We won’t let this win linger, either.”

Beating Pittsburgh is never easy for the Browns and this rare win against the Steelers seemed sweeter than ever, a possible season-changer. In the first month, the Browns absolutely had to win over Baker Mayfield and win against Pittsburgh.

Done. And done.