There’s been plenty of talk this season that the Browns are improving. And maybe they are. But they’re still the worst team in the AFC North.
The Steelers made that crystal clear last Sunday in Cleveland, going on the road and whipping the Browns in all phases of the game.
Cleveland’s offense just couldn’t get anything going. With starter Jason Campbell in the game, they managed just three points. Then Campbell left with a head injury, and Brandon Weeden was his usual terrible self.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was efficient if not spectacular, completing 22 of 34 passes for 217 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
But the story of this game was more about what the Browns did badly than about what the Steelers did well. Cleveland is still a last-place team.
William Gay forced one fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown, and the resurgent Steelers scored all three of their touchdowns off turnovers to manhandle the Browns, 27-11, Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
A year after the Steelers committed eight turnovers while being upset at Cleveland, 20-14, with an injured Ben Roethlisberger out of the lineup, the Steelers returned the favor with a vintage defensive performance.
The Steelers (5-6) became the first AFC North team to win on the road in divisional games this season – home teams had been 7-0 – and were in control on both sides of the ball in winning their third in a row and fifth in seven games.
They can get back to .500 – which looked improbable once they started 0-4 – if they can win Thursday at Baltimore (5-6) in what now becomes a pivotal game with major AFC wild-card playoff implications. The Ravens beat the Jets on Sunday.
With winds in the 30-mph range and temperatures in the low 20s, both offenses started off slowly – but only the Browns remained that way, despite 237 yards receiving by Josh Gordon on 14 catches. Gordon accounted for nearly two-thirds of the Browns’ yardage; his yardage and receptions both were the second most against the Steelers.
With the scored tied 3-3 late in the second quarter, Roethlisberger hit Emmanuel Sanders to the Browns’ 41 on a first-down play. On the next play, Antonio Brown got behind star Browns cornerback Joe Haden for a 41-yard touchdown catch. The ball rolled around Brown’s stomach as he struck the turf, but he managed to control it without it ever touching the ground.
It was only the second touchdown allowed all season by Haden, who has shut down receivers such as A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson.
Brown’s touchdown started a run of 24 consecutive Steelers points that ended when Browns backup QB Brandon Weeden, who took over for the injured Jason Campbell, threw a 1-yard TD pass to Gordon with just over three minutes remaining.
Campbell was hurt when he was hit hard by Gay, who appeared to strike the quarterback in the head with a forearm, and fumbled, with backup safety Will Allen scooping the ball up and returning it to Browns’ 4. Roethlisberger immediately hit Sanders for a touchdown on the next play to make it 20-3 with 7:43 remaining in the third quarter.
Gay closed out the Steelers’ scoring, which also included a pair of Shaun Suisham field goals, when he returned a Weeden interception 21 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
It was only the sixth game in NFL history to end with a 27-11 score.
Roethlisberger is 16-1 in his career against the Browns, and the Steelers have won 12 of 15 in Cleveland since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999.
Qadry Ismail of Baltimore had the most receiving yards against the Steelers, 258 yards on six catches in 1999. William Andrews of Atlanta had the most catches, 15 (for 124 yards) in 1981.