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Browns 29, Steelers 17: Cleveland bounces back, gets key win over rival

CLEVELAND — The onside kick bounded along the grass and past diving receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Stomachs dropped across Northeast Ohio.

Commentary: It wasn’t easy, but Browns get win they desperately needed

Four days after the Browns collapsed in the final two minutes in a loss to the Jets, they were charged with recovering another onside kick to preserve a lead. Peoples-Jones whiffed, but receiver Anthony Schwartz got to the ball along the sideline and knocked it out of bounds to give the Browns possession with 1:46 remaining.


After three runs, a punt and a fumble recovery in the end zone by cornerback Denzel Ward after desperation laterals from the Steelers on the final play, the Browns emerged with a 29-17 victory Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.

David Njoku has big night catching and blocking

They rebounded and they finished.

“It’s kind of weird how the world works sometimes,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “You put yourself almost in the almost identical situation as you did last week and this time you find a way to execute. I wish we had gotten a first down on offense so we could have kneeled out the clock. But special teams did a lot better. We got the onside kick and our defense played lights out. So it was good to exorcise those demons and get a division win.”

Cade York kicked a go-ahead 34-yard field goal in the third quarter and Nick Chubb scored from a yard in the fourth quarter for a 23-14 lead with 9:29 left. The defense forced two punts before allowing its only points of the second half, a 34-yard field goal with 1:48 to set up the onside kick.

The Jets recovered an onside kick Sunday as they overcame a 13-point deficit in the final 1:55. Coach Kevin Stefanski was asked what went through his mind during the onside try Thursday.

He paused for a long time before saying, “a lot.”

“I know everybody was anxious to get back on that field and get that taste out of our mouths and play a complete football game, and that’s what we did,” said defensive end Myles Garrett, who didn’t have a sack and remains a half-sack behind Clay Matthews’ official franchise record of 62. “Everybody did their job and all the teams came together to make it a really special win.”

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett played really well for the second straight game, zipping the ball through a 21 mph hour wind that blew all night. He went 21-for-31 (68 percent) for 220 yards, two touchdowns and a 109.6 passer rating.

He was also a force with sneaks in short yardage to pick up first downs, including a 6-yarder on the final touchdown drive in which he went behind the left tackle. He punctuated the first down with a scream.

“We had the right men in that room to be able to get past it,” Brissett said of the loss to the Jets. “We answered that call today. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We had to look each other in the face and look at ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘Listen, man, the season is going on. The longer we sulk about that one then we won’t be where we need to be for this game.’

“The guys answered the bell and came out with a big one tonight.”

After a tumultuous week, the Browns are 2-1 and can catch their breath over a long weekend. They’re also atop the AFC North.

The night was full of redemption.

Chubb blamed himself for scoring a touchdown against the Jets rather than going out of bounds to guarantee a victory, and the defense and special teams crumbled after that.

Chubb had nothing to apologize for Thursday. He rushed 23 times for 113 yards and the touchdown.

York’s missed extra point started the slide against the Jets and he missed one in the second quarter vs. the Steelers (1-2). He came back to make a 34-yard field goal for a 16-14 lead in the third quarter and added an extra point in the fourth.

The defense didn’t fold late, a departure from the previous two games when it allowed 17 points in the fourth quarter in each. Instead, the communication problems that have plagued the secondary were much improved.

“We really were on our p’s and q’s and made sure that we didn’t give up any leaky gains or big plays,” Garrett said. “Everybody was communicating and there were no mistakes on the front or on the back and we were really hanging with guys and giving the ball back to the offense so they could put some points on the board.”

The defense also overcame third-quarter injuries to linebackers Anthony Walker Jr. (knee) and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (quadriceps) and defensive tackle Tevon Bryan (hamstring) — all starters. Walker’s left leg was placed in an air cast on the field and he was driven off on a cart. Coach Kevin Stefanski called it a knee sprain and said Walker would have an MRI.

“I am just proud of them because that is not an easy thing to bounce back from,” Stefanski said of the loss to the Jets. “What I am proud of those guys is you can’t let a loss linger. We won’t let this win linger, either. I am proud of how they responded. You have to be resilient.”

Tight end David Njoku had a huge night, catching a career-high nine passes for 89 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone in the second quarter.

Receiver Amari Cooper, who didn’t recover the onside kick vs. the Jets, had his second straight 101-yard game. He caught nine passes and a touchdown.

Running back Kareem Hunt added 47 yards rushing and 14 yards receiving.

“Growing up, the Steelers had our number every time we played them,” said Hunt, who was born and raised in Northeast Ohio. “So the tables have turned. We’re trying to make sure we keep collecting wins against those guys and everybody in this division.”

The rebound win came as a relief.

“It feels great. I ain’t got to go to sleep angry no more,” Hunt said. “I’m just glad we responded to get that taste out of our mouth so we can enjoy this nice little break, get our bodies back and be ready for the next week.”

Steelers quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, a Mentor native, couldn’t beat his hometown team despite a valiant effort.

After criticism for not throwing downfield, he tried on a number of occasions. He went 20-for-32 for 207 yards, an 81.1 rating and a 1-yard touchdown run.

Receiver Diontae Johnson, matched up most of the night with Ward, led the Steelers with seven catches for 76 yards.

The missed York extra point was the difference in a tight first half. The teams scored two touchdowns apiece, but York’s second extra point try was rejected by the right upright and Pittsburgh led 14-13.

A 36-yard Chubb run was the big play on the seven-play, 60-yard touchdown drive that took 3:01 in the first quarter. Bitonio pulled in front of Chubb, who then made safety Minkah Fitzpatrick miss in the open field.

“We felt like Nick would have another good day today,” Stefanski said. “He felt confident I think in a lot of the run schemes. He gives you an honest day’s work. He ran hard. He gets stronger as the game wears on.”

The Steelers didn’t have an answer.

“They ran the ball, we got our ass kicked. Simple as that,” defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said.

“They controlled the game, man,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “They possessed the ball. Nick Chubb controlled the game.”

The fans left the stadium happy after booing the finish vs. the Jets.

“It’s the reception I’m hoping to get every night, I hope we all get every night,” said Garrett, who criticized the booing four days earlier. “It’s the kind of performance we’re trying to put out and whatever reaction we get or we produce from them, we’re going to put our best foot forward and give 100 percent and play our best game.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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