| Akron Beacon Journal
PITTSBURGH – Baker Mayfield was picked off, pummeled and pulled.
The starting quarterback of the Browns had a nightmarish outing Sunday in a 38-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in front of announced crowd of 5,260 at Heinz Field.
Playing through pain from an injury to his chest and ribs suffered last week in a 32-23 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Mayfield took a physical beating from the undefeated Steelers and spent the fourth quarter on the sideline.
Coach Kevin Stefanski summoned backup quarterback Case Keenum with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.
Mayfield finished 10-of-18 passing (55.6%) for 119 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions for a rating of 54.9. He took four sacks and got up slowly after absorbing some big hits. He rushed once for 5 yards.
The Browns (4-2) failed to rise to the occasion in a big-time matchup, and their four-game winning streak came to a screeching halt.
The showdown between the AFC North foes was one of the most important of the expansion era. The Browns entered it 4-1 for the first time since 1994, the Steelers 4-0 for the first time since 1979.
The teams hadn’t met with both of them at least three games above .500 since Dec. 18, 1994, and the matchup served as a litmus test for each club. Heading into the weekend, the Browns’ first five opponents had a combined record of 11-13-1 while the Steelers’ first four opponents were a combined 3-15-1.
Well, the Browns weren’t in the same class as the Steelers, who are 5-0 for the first time since 1978. The blowout loss was reminisicient of the Browns losing 38-6 in the Sept. 13 season opener to the other powerhouse in the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens.
The Browns lost their 17th consecutive game in Pittsburgh, where they haven’t prevailed since Oct. 5, 2003. They also fell to 1-19 at Heinz Field, which opened in 2001.
Since 1999, the Browns are 7-36-1 (including 0-1 in the playoffs) against the Steelers.
The national spotlight was on Browns defensive end Myles Garrett in his first appearance against the Steelers since he hit Mason Rudolph over the head with the backup quarterback’s helmet on Nov. 14 and thereby ended his 2019 season with a six-game suspension.
But Garrett had a quiet day, except for one sack late in the second quarter on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who improved to 23-2-1 as a starter against the Browns. Garrett also had a brief pregame chat on the field with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who’s now 22-4-1 against Cleveland.
Roethlisberger went 14-of-22 passing (63.6%) for 162 yards and a touchdown without an interception for a rating of 100.9. Rudoph replaced him late in the fourth quarter, but wasn’t on the field at the same time as Garrett. Running back James Conner rushed 20 times for 101 yards (5.1 average) and a TD.
From a Browns perspective, most of the attention was on Mayfield’s struggles.
The Browns trailed 24-7 at halftime after he threw an interception in each of the first two quarters. He threw also two interceptions in the second half against the Colts, so he wound up throwing an interception in four consecutive quarters.
Mayfield also took a while to stand after the offense’s final play of the second quarter. On third-and-1 from the Browns 48, outside linebacker Bud Dupree rushed Mayfield and grabbed him by the legs while defensive tackle Cameron Heyward smashed into the left side of the QB with nine seconds left in the half.
Yet Mayfield started the second half. He was shaken up again during the first series of the third quarter when Dupree and outside linebacker T.J. Watt hit him for another sack.
Mayfield’s first pass of the game resulted in a touchdown. Unfortunately for the Browns, it was a TD for the Steelers.
Facing third-and-3 from the Cleveland 28 on the offense’s third play from scrimmage, Mayfield threw a short pass intended for rookie tight end Harrison Bryant, but free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick cut in front of Bryant, intercepted the ball and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown. The defensive score put the Steelers ahead 10-0 with 8:58 remaining in the first quarter.
With 10:35 left in the first quarter, the Steelers went ahead 3-0 during the game’s opening series. They settled for Chris Boswell’s 35-yard field goal at the end of an 11-play, 58-yard drive.
The Browns trailed 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, and in an attempt to create a spark, they lined up to go for it on fourth-and-4 from the Pittsburgh 37 with 14:11 left in the second quarter. But rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills was penalized for a false start, pushing the Browns back 5 yards and prompting them to punt.
The Steelers took possession at their 12 with 14:05 left in the first half and orchestrated a seven-play, 88-yard scoring drive. Conner rushed for a 3-yard touchdown a play after Roethlisberger and rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool connected for 36 yards on a pass over cornerback Terrance Mitchell. Conner’s TD extended the Steelers lead to 17-0 with 10:28 remaining in the second quarter.
During the next series, Mayfield threw off his back foot while under pressure from outside linebacker T.J. Watt on third-and-12 from the Cleveland 34. The pass intended for receiver Rashard Higgins was intercepted by cornerback Cameron Sutton at the 50 with 7:41 left in the second quarter.
The CBS telecast showed receiver Odell Beckham Jr. yelling on the sideline after the turnover. Sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson said on the air Beckham’s shouting was directed toward the offensive linemen and he had been trying to fire up the team.
Apparently, the speech didn’t work.
Four plays later, receiver James Washington beat cornerback Denzel Ward with an out-and-up double move and was wide open when he caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to make it 24-0 with 5:43 left in the second quarter.
The Browns finally scored with 1:01 left in the second quarter. On second-and-10, Mayfield threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to receiver Rashard Higgins, who was left wide open in the right side of the end zone. The Browns nine-play, 75-yard march made it 24-7.
Any chance the Browns had to pose a serious threat in the second half ended when running back Kareem Hunt was stuffed for a loss of a yard by Heyward and Watt on fourth-and-1 from the Cleveland 29 with 5:55 left in the third quarter.
Eight plays after the turnover on downs, Claypool rushed for a 1-yard TD, and the Steelers went ahead 31-7 with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Steelers tacked on Benny Snell’s 1-yard rushing touchdown with 8:08 left in the fourth quarter, bolstering their lead to 38-7 nine plays after Keenum threw behind Hunt and incomplete on fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 45 for another turnover on downs.
The Browns entered the game with the NFL’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense (188.4 yards per game), but they were held to 22 carries for 75 yards (3.4 average). Starting in place of Pro Bowler Nick Chubb, who’s out with a knee injury, Hunt had 13 carries for 40 yards (3.1 average).