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Steelers

Tim Benz: Neither Steelers nor Browns deserved to win. So neither did.

| Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, 9:42 p.m.
The Steelers' Cameron Sutton (2nd on l) sits on the bench after being beat for a touchdown by the Browns in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at Firstenergy Stadium Cleveland Ohio.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Cameron Sutton (2nd on l) sits on the bench after being beat for a touchdown by the Browns in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at Firstenergy Stadium Cleveland Ohio.

I remember the postgame interview session with former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher on Nov. 10, 2002. That was the day the Steelers tied the Atlanta Falcons, 34-34, at Heinz Field.

In typical jaw-jutting, steely-staring, spittle-expectorating fashion, Cowher proclaimed, “This … is not … a loss.”

He spat out every syllable slowly and defiantly for emphasis.

He was right. It wasn’t. It was, by definition, a tie. Just like Sunday’s 21-21 final in Cleveland was also a tie.

But, c’mon. When it comes to that mind-numbing affair in Ohio, let’s be honest. In Cowher-speak: “That … was … a … loss.”

In a game neither team deserved to win, neither team did. Although it’s obvious which city is feeling better about its team after Game 1 of the 2018 season.

Cleveland’s club had lost its previous 17 regular-season games and 31 of 32 under coach Hue Jackson. The Browns merely are hoping to return to competitiveness this year, not contend for a title.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has an organization with Super Bowl aspirations. If it can’t walk away with two victories against the Browns, those goals should adjust.

A similar edition of the Steelers in 2017 barely slipped past Cleveland on two occasions. This one couldn’t do it.

In both games last year, the Steelers did what they so often have during the Mike Tomlin era: They played down to the level of their competition.

This year’s team did the same thing. The difference is this year’s club might not have as far to drop. These Steelers aren’t as good as last year. And the Browns are a little bit better.

But both teams were awful Sunday. They were so bad that they were even worse than the horrid weather that hung over Cleveland all afternoon.

So were the officials. If you are looking for a reason to argue the Steelers did deserve to win, look no further than a punt hitting Nick Chubb’s helmet that the officials — and even replay — refused to acknowledge as a turnover. It would have given the Steelers the ball near midfield with 8 minutes, 52 seconds left and leading 21-7. Or a Jabrill Peppers fumble return that might have come loose and gone through the end zone for a touchback. But he was ruled down, setting up the Browns for an easy touchdown to make the score 21-14.

That was one of many blown non-calls in the game. Which is amazing, given how the officiating crew still assessed 203 yards in penalties on 23 accepted flags, many of which were questionable.

Yup, the officials in the NFL stink. So does the rule book they enforce, and so do the ex-officials who evaluate their performance on television. However, if a game in Cleveland comes down to officiating, you have done a lot of other things wrong.

And, boy, did the Steelers do that.

• They blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead.

• They committed six turnovers, five by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

• Chris Boswell missed a game-winning kick from 42 yards in overtime.

• James Conner was great until he fumbled in the fourth quarter.

• Artie Burns had a 30-yard temper tantrum.

• Roethlisberger’s inaccuracy at times rivaled Tyler Glasnow’s, and he appears to have regressed to “backyard Ben” already in the Randy Fichtner era.

• Roethlisberger’s beloved offensive line didn’t help him out very much, though, as he was sacked four times and hit six more.

“The way we played, that wasn’t our best performance,” receiver Antonio Brown said. “Any time you turn the ball over like that, you are going to get that result.”

Actually, AB, any time you turn the ball over like that, you should lose. Your team was just lucky you did it against the Browns, or else you wouldn’t have managed even a tie.

If not for T.J. Watt’s heroics with a blocked field goal in overtime, we would be talking about a Steelers loss.

“I felt like somebody was offsides,” Jackson complained after the game. “But they didn’t call it.”

No, Hue. They just called everything else. Please. The lack of a flag there isn’t what prevented you from winning. What prevented you from winning is the fact your quarterback can’t throw.

Tyrod Taylor was a brutal 15 of 40 for 197 yards. He also threw an interception to Cam Sutton on a potential winning drive in regulation.

Also, your offensive line can’t pass block. Thankfully for Taylor, he can run. Otherwise, Watt might have killed him. As it was, the Steelers second-year linebacker sacked Taylor four times.

That was one of the few bright spots on the afternoon. There weren’t many. Based on that atrocity of a performance, Steelers fans have a right to wonder if they’ll be seeing a lot fewer of those bright spots than they anticipated before the season.

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