Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: If Pittsburgh started it, the Steelers finished the Browns
There’s a popular saying in Cleveland — you might have even seen it on Freddie Kitchens’ T-shirt — that “Pittsburgh started it.”
While that’s highly debatable, this isn’t: The Steelers finished it.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, Freddie.
The Steelers turned to long-shot quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges to beat Baker Mayfield and the Browns, 20-13, on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
After beating the Steelers, 21-7, on Nov. 14 in Cleveland in a game marred by a brawl in the final seconds, the Browns (5-7) were riding a three-game winning streak and seeking their first sweep of the Steelers since 1988. They came away empty-handed, and the loss might put their postseason hopes in peril.
The Steelers (7-5) might have saved theirs, as they remained positioned for the sixth spot in the AFC. They also reminded the Browns, although the rivalry is renewed, Pittsburgh is still Big Brother.
1. Reversal of fortunes: Baker Mayfield completed passes of 19 yards to Jarvis Landry and 21 yards to Stephen Carlson on the opening drive to get into the red zone.
But a false-start penalty pushed the Browns back to a third-and-14 at the 26, and Mayfield rolled right and threw to Landry near the Steelers’ sideline.
The pass was ruled incomplete by officials, and kicker Austin Seibert was lined up to attempt a 44-yard field goal when Kitchens threw the red flag to challenge the call.
Replays showed it was a close call, as Landry got one foot down and dragged the other before Odell Beckham Jr. ran over the top of him. Despite video replays that appeared inconclusive, the ruling was reversed.
The Browns had a first-and-5 at the 6 before they imploded. Nick Chubb was dropped for a 1-yard loss, and Mayfield was sacked by T.J. Watt for a 6-yard loss before throwing incomplete on third down.
The Browns settled for 31-yard field goal by Seibert and a 3-0 lead they soon extended.
2. Ten spot: The Browns dominated time of possession in the first quarter, with an 8-minute, 22-second advantage over the Steelers (11:41 to 3:19).
After the Steelers went three-and-out on their first possession and punted again on their second, the Browns went on a touchdown march.
They went 70 yards on 10 plays, highlighted by Chubb’s runs of 9-, 12- and 7-yards for first downs. Mayfield found Kareem Hunt for a 15-yard touchdown pass and a 10-0 lead at 7:40 of the second quarter.
The Steelers looked like they were in trouble.
Turns out, they were about to cause some.
3. Duck hunting: When Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson jumped offsides on a third-and-9 at the 18, the Steelers got a free play and made the most of it.
Hodges threw down the visiting sideline for James Washington for a 31-yard completion, providing the spark the Steelers needed on offense.
That’s when offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner got creative, running a reverse with Diontae Johnson for 17 yards and back-to-back direct snaps to Jaylen Samuels for gains of 7 and 5 yards. The drive ended with a Chris Boswell 39-yard field goal to cut it to 10-3, but the Steelers showed signs of life.
They got the ball back with 1:48 left in the half, and Hodges found Tevin Jones for a 28-yard completion in double coverage. That set up a 30-yard touchdown pass to Washington, who caught it despite pass interference on Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie and safety Sheldrick Redwine nearly knocking the ball loose.
The score was tied 10-10 and the Steelers had all the momentum going into halftime. And they were receiving the kickoff to start the second half.
4. Taking control: The Steelers started the third quarter with a seven-play, 69-yard scoring drive highlighted by another big pass play from Hodges to Washington.
Samuels lowered his shoulder and ran over cornerback Greedy Williams for an 8-yard gain, but Johnson was called for unnecessary roughness for hitting safety Justin Burris.
On the next play, Hodges threw deep down the right sideline to Washington for a 44-yard gain. After a pass-interference penalty on cornerback Denzel Ward gave the Steelers a first-and-goal at the 1, Benny Snell ran for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 17-10 lead.
The Browns answered by driving to the Steelers 40 and converting a fourth-and-1 by having Chubb dive over the pile. Then they self-destructed. First, tackle Chris Hubbard was called for holding. Then, Bud Dupree pushed Mayfield out of the pocket and chased him down for a strip-sack, and the ball was recovered by Cameron Heyward.
The Steelers had the edge entering the fourth quarter, and Boswell added a 29-yard field goal for a 20-10 lead.
But could they keep it?
5. Finishing touch: Mayfield wasn’t having it, as he completed passes of 19 yards to Beckham, 21 yards to Chubb and 23 yards to tight end Demetrius Harris in succession before the drive stalled.
The Browns settled for a Seibert 34-yard field goal to cut it to 20-13, then got a big break when Terrance Mitchell intercepted Hodges at the Cleveland 42 and returned it to the Steelers 30.
Javon Hargrave got a monster sack, dropping Mayfield for an 8-yard loss on third down. So the Browns sent Seibert out to attempt a 56-yard field goal. Instead, he hit a pooch punt that was downed at the 1 by Carlson.
Whether Carlson downed the ball before falling into the end zone came into question, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin challenged the spot. But it was upheld, and the Steelers were pinned at their own 1.
After Matt Feiler drew a false-start penalty, Benny Snell broke an 11-yard run. Then Hodges connected on a pair of key third-down conversions, first a 14-yard pass to Johnson on third-and-5 at the 17 and then an 8-yarder to Vance McDonald on third-and-6 at the 35. But the Steelers were forced to punt, so it came down to their defense.
After Dupree was called for roughing the passer, Joe Haden intercepted Mayfield’s pass to clinch the victory.
It was a fitting finish for Haden, a former Browns star who has found a home in the right neighborhood.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .