CLEVELAND — The Browns’ playoff dreams have a pulse.
It was impossible to tell early Friday morning in the bowels of FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns’ 21-7 victory over the Steelers has the potential to save the season but took a backseat to a violent brawl with eight seconds left Thursday night.
Defensive end Myles Garrett faces a lengthy suspension — possibly for the final six games — after ripping the helmet off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and hitting him in the head with it.
“I lost my cool and I regret it,” said Garrett, who was ejected. “It’s going to come back to hurt our team. The guys who jumped into the scrum, I appreciate my team having my back, but it never should have gotten to that point. It’s on me.”
Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was also ejected after knocking Rudolph to the ground after the episode with Garrett. Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey was also ejected for punching and kicking Garrett after he had been taken to the ground.
Browns free safety Damarious Randall was ejected in the third quarter for a helmet-to-helmet hit on defenseless receiver Diontae Johnson that caused a concussion.
“It feels like we lost,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said.
He called Garrett’s actions “inexcusable,” and coach Freddie Kitchens said he was “embarrassed.” He wouldn’t speculate on how many games Garrett will be suspended because he’d “never seen that in my life.”
“That is not who Myles wants to be,” Kitchens said. “That is not who we are going to be. You have to be able to maintain your composure in times like that. I am embarrassed. Myles is embarrassed.
“It is not good. He understands what he did. He understands it is totally unacceptable, and we got to get through it.”
The officials took minutes to calm things down, get the players back to the sidelines and make sure the ejected players were in the locker room. Kitchens screamed to Ogunjobi to get to the locker room, and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. riled up the crowd.
It’s doubtful emotions will have calmed down by the time the Browns play in Pittsburgh on Dec. 1.
“This is a physical, violent game and there’s moments if you don’t keep your cool bad things can happen and he knows that,” Mayfield said. “It’s inexcusable and he knows that. There’s other way around it, he’s going to own up to it and he’s going to handle it and this locker room is going to have to come together because this is going to be a soap opera on the outside much like the media has portrayed us to be for the whole season, so we have to be a disciplined team and we have to come together and we have to play football.”
Kitchens spent his whole postgame news conference discussing the brawl — he said he’s never encouraged fighting — and lamented how all the good from the victory would be lost.
The list was long.
The Browns have won two straight for the first time this season to improve to 4-6. While no team to start 2-6 has made the playoffs since divisional realignment in 2002, seven of 99 teams to start 4-6 have reached the playoffs (7.1 percent).
The Browns have already made history, starting 2-0 inside the AFC North for the first time since it was formed in 2002. They beat the Ravens 40-25 in Week 4.
It’s the first time they beat both rivals in a season.
Four of the last five games are against division opponents, giving the Browns the chance to go on a run toward the postseason.
“The win still means the same thing,” Mayfield said.
He went 17-for-32 for 193 yards, two touchdown passes and a 92.3 passer rating. He also scored on a 1-yard sneak on Cleveland’s first drive.
The Browns went 2-for-2 from the 1-yard line after going 0-for-8 Sunday in a win over the Bills.
The Browns got a rare victory over the Steelers. They were 0-7-1 over the previous four years and 6-33-1 since returning in 1999. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin fell to 20-4-1 against Cleveland.
Nick Chubb rushed 27 times for 92 yards, putting him over 1,000 for the season.
Fans to hold their breath for much of the second half until undrafted rookie tight end Stephen Carlson, who went to Princeton and spent the first seven games on the practice squad, made a great catch in the back of the end zone with 5:25 left for the final margin.
It was his first NFL catch.
The Browns intercepted Rudolph four times, doubling their interception total from the first nine games. Middle linebacker Joe Schobert had two as he made a strong case for the Pro Bowl, and his second pick set up Carlson’s clincher.
Schobert returned the ball to the 4, but the Browns faced third-and-goal from the 8 leading 14-7. Mayfield bounced around the pocket under pressure, set his feet and fired into a crowded middle, where Carlson jumped and reached over linebacker Mark Barron.
The strong finish made up for an ugly middle. Until the horrific fight.
The Steelers (5-5) came in on a four-game winning streak but left with serious questions about, and injuries to, their offense. Receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Johnson left with concussions after getting hit in the head by Browns defenders, and running back James Conner exited with a shoulder injury.
The Steelers totaled 104 yards in the first half and finished with 236.
The story of the game would’ve been the Cleveland defense.