Steelers’ 4-game winning streak snapped, brawl breaks out vs. Browns
CLEVELAND — On a chilly night in the shadow of Lake Erie, the Cleveland Browns put a wet blanket over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ four-game winning streak and then ignited a brawl in the waning moments that overshadowed the outcome.
Baker Mayfield threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score to give the Browns a 21-7 victory Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium for their first win over the Steelers since 2014.
But all anyone talked about after the game was the brawl that ensued with eight seconds remaining when Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ripped off Mason Rudolph’s helmet and swung it, hitting the Steelers quarterback in the head.
On a night when the Steelers lost five players to injury, including three to concussions, and Browns cornerback Damarious Randall was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Diontae Johnson, tempers reached a boiling point after Garrett’s actions.
A fight ensued, with center Maurkice Pouncey coming to Rudolph’s defense. Pouncey, Garrett and Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi were ejected.
The incident left Steelers players advocating for Garrett to be suspended for the rest of the season.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” Pouncey said. “We’ll see how serious the NFL is.”
Rudolph, who said he was not injured, called Garrett’s actions “bush league and totally cowardly,” and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward implored the Browns to handle the matter internally before the two teams meet again at Heinz Field in 17 days.
“I know there are scuffles in the game,” Heyward said. “Tensions fly high. For it to get to a point where a guy uses a helmet as a weapon and hits a guy in the head, uncalled for. I’m all about being competitive, but that’s one of the stupidest things I ever saw.”
Garrett apologized for his actions.
“It is embarrassing,” he said. “What I did was foolish. I shouldn’t allow myself to get like that. It was out of character.”
Steelers QB Mason Rudolph reacts to being ask about whether Myles Garrett should be suspended by calling his hit “bush league” and “cowardly.” pic.twitter.com/2n9YfUgwi7
— Kevin Gorman (@KGorman_Trib) November 15, 2019
The finish overshadowed a loss that dropped the Steelers’ record to 5-5 and moved them out of the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Browns won their second in a row to improve to 4-6.
Rudolph was intercepted four times while completing 23 of 44 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. He also was sacked four times.
The Steelers were stopped three times on fourth down and were 2 of 11 on third-down conversions. They were held to a season-low 236 yards, the third time in as many games and the sixth time they gained fewer than 275.
“We were not (good),” guard Ramon Foster said. “We just got to make it happen, have to take advantage of a lot of things. We’ve got to continue to grow.”
An opportunistic Steelers defense that had 14 takeaways during the four-game streak came up empty against the Browns while falling into a 14-0 first-half deficit. So good at preventing deep passes for much of the season, the Steelers allowed Mayfield to complete a pair of passes in excess of 40 yards that led to first-half touchdowns.
It was the first time since Week 1 against New England that the Steelers allowed a completion longer than 40 yards. Mayfield finished 17 of 32 for 193 yards, throwing touchdown passes to Jarvis Landry and Stephen Carlson. He scored on a 1-yard run to give the Browns a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
And, after getting 13 sacks in the previous three games, the Steelers sacked Mayfield just once.
“I think Mayfield did some positive things on extended plays, and that was probably the difference on that side of the ball,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We didn’t keep him in the pocket enough. … He created some things, and we weren’t strong enough on the back end in combination with the rush in terms of keeping him in (the pocket).”
In the first half, the Steelers lost wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion), running back James Conner (shoulder), outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi (concussion) and cornerback Artie Burns (knee).
Johnson left midway through the third quarter after taking the helmet shot from Randall.
Minus two of their three starting receivers, the Steelers gave heavy playing time to Johnny Holton and Tevin Jones, who was activated from the practice squad before the game and made his NFL debut.
Rudolph was intercepted twice on targets for Jones, once in each half. The first pick was on a tipped pass; the second occurred when Rudolph threw behind his receiver.
Jones finished with two catches for 24 yards. Targeted seven times, Holton had his first catch of the season, an 18-yard gain.
“With the guys we had in there, they stepped up and made some plays,” Rudolph said. “We had some shots and pushed the ball down the field. We didn’t connect and turning the ball over four times doesn’t help.”
The third interception, on a deep pass down the middle for James Washington in the fourth quarter, was returned 20 yards by linebacker Joe Schoebert and set up Mayfield’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Carlson with 5:25 remaining. It gave the Browns a 21-7 lead.
Conner aggravated a shoulder injury that kept him out the previous two weeks. He had five carries for 10 yards and a 6-yard catch before departing.
Smith-Schuster sustained a concussion with 9:08 remaining in the half when he took a shot to the head from Denzel Ward on a pass over the middle. He had two catches for 21 yards before exiting.
Johnson had two catches for 17 yards before the hit by Randall sent him to the medical tent.
“That part is football,” Pouncey said. “Guys aren’t trying to hit helmet to helmet.”
And usually they aren’t swinging helmets at defenseless players, either.
“The NFL has some work cut out for them,” said guard David DeCastro, who also rushed to Rudolph’s defense. “They have to make a statement.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .