The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns know each other well. Not only are they division foes in the AFC North, but their meeting in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs was their second straight game after their Week 17 game in Cleveland.
But this game wasn’t played in FirstEnergy Stadium, it was at Heinz Field. And Mason Rudolph wasn’t the quarterback of the Steelers, it was Ben Roethlisberger. One final meeting between these two hated rivals, their respective seasons on the line.
The Browns won the opening coin toss, and decided to put their defense on the field to square off with Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense to start the game. After the Ray-Ray McCloud return, the first snap from scrimmage sailed over Roethlisberger’s head and was recovered in the end zone for the Browns touchdown. In the blink of an eye it was 7-0 Cleveland.
The Steelers’ offense took to the field again, and put together a nice drive with James Conner doing all of the heavy lifting. However, at midfield, when Roethlisberger faced pressure up the middle, his pass intended for Conner and was intercepted at midfield. With 10:44 left in the first quarter, the Steelers had already committed two turnovers.
Baker Mayfield got onto the field for the first time, and it didn’t take him long to make a play. Facing a key 3rd and 4, Mayfield hit Jarvis Landry over the middle, and it was Landry making several Steelers miss en route to the end zone. Just like that, it was 14-0 Browns with 9:46 left in the opening quarter.
Desperate for something resembling an answer, the Steelers were stoned on 3rd and 1 and Jordan Berry had to punt the ball away to the Browns offense. After two huge Nick Chubb runs, it was Kareem Hunt who abused several defenders on his way to the end zone. With just 4:40 left in the first quarter, the Steelers were staring up at a 21-0 deficit.
It was more of the same for the Steelers’ offense on their next drive. After a holding penalty on Matt Feiler, Roethlisberger’s pass was high and tipped off Diontae Johnson’s hands and was intercepted. The Steelers’ third turnover in the first quarter.
The Browns wasted no time adding to their lead, running it right down the Steelers’ throats in the process. It was Hunt, again, who plunged into the end zone to make the score 28-0 with 1:56 left in the opening quarter.
The Steelers started the second quarter with the football, but instead of the fireworks of the first quarter, the second quarter saw both teams exchange punts to begin the quarter. On Pittsburgh’s second drive of the quarter, Ben Roethlisberger had his pass tipped, and intercepted.
It was the third interception, and fourth turnover, of the game.
The Browns weren’t able to turn the takeaway into points, and the Steelers put together their best drive of the game right after. Starting at their own 11, Roethlisberger connected with James Washington on multiple occasions to move the ball into Cleveland territory. But the drive didn’t stop there. Facing a critical 4th and 1 at the 2-yard line, James Conner barely got the yardage necessary for the first down. The next play was a Conner touchdown, making the score 28-7 with 1:44 left in the first half.
Right when you thought the Steelers could scratch and claw their way back into the game, the Browns drove right down the field with ease. Mayfield made plays when necessary, sometimes with his legs, and the final play was a pass to Austin Hooper, making the score 35-7 with 34 seconds left in the half.
Pittsburgh’s offense was able to get into Chris Boswell’s field goal range, and Boswell nailed a 49-yard field goal to make the score 35-10 at halftime.
The Browns received the football to start the second half, but their first drive of the third quarter resulted in a rare punt. Ben Roethlisberger and company picked up where they left off in the second quarter, and put together another impressive drive.
Roethlisberger had big passes to Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, but the best pass was the touchdown pass to Eric Ebron.
The Steelers decided to go for two, but the pass intended for James Conner fell incomplete, and the score was 35-16 with 7:22 left in the third quarter.
Conversions to Dionate Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eric Ebron moved the Steelers into a first and goal situation. After three passes which didn’t invoke much confidence, the Steelers went for it on 4th and goal and Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster for the touchdown.
Chris Boswell made the extra point, making the score 35-23 with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh’s defense forced a quick three and out, but when the Steelers’ offense faced a 4th and 1 near midfield, Mike Tomlin opted to punt the ball instead of going for it. Following the Jordan Berry touchback, the Cleveland offense finally woke up after halftime. Mayfield delivered big pass completions on third down, and it was a screen pass to Nick Chubb which equated in the Browns’ touchdown. Following the point-after, the score was 42-23 with 12:32 remaining in regulation.
Ben Roethlisberger and the offense took under two minutes to put up more points. After a big completion to Diontae Johnson moved the ball into Cleveland territory, it was a bullet to Chase Claypool for the latest Steelers’ touchdown.
The Steelers went for the two-point conversion, again, and failed, again. That made the score 42-29 with 11:08 left in the 4th quarter.
When it looked like the tides had turned, and the Steelers’ defense would get one of their patented stops and the ball right back to the offense, the Browns put together a drive which ended in a Parkey field goal. The kick made the score 45-29 with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter.
Needing two touchdowns, two two-point conversions and defensive stops, Roethlisberger was picked off for the fourth time of the game, sealing the win for the Cleveland Browns. The turnover resulted in another Parkey field goal, making the score 48-29.
In garbage time, Roethlisberger continued to chuck the football, and he was able to put up another touchdown before all was said and done. The touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Claypool, and the two-point conversion to James Conner, made the score 48-37 with 1:09 left in regulation.
The Steelers’ onside kick attempt failed, and the 48-37 score would hold as the final score.
The loss ends the Steelers’ season, and leads to a long offseason where many tough decisions await. In the meantime, the Steelers haven’t won a playoff game since the 2016 season. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold throughout the offseason.