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Steelers 26, Browns 22: Nick Chubb lost for season with knee injury; Cleveland blows lead in fourth quarter

PITTSBURGH — Some losses to the Steelers hurt more than others.

The 26-22 defeat Monday night qualifies as an absolute killer.

The Browns lost here for the 20th straight time in the regular season and blew the chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 1993 despite leading halfway through the fourth quarter. That still wasn’t nearly as painful as what happened early in the second quarter.

The lasting images of the game will be of injured running back Nick Chubb.


Teammates feeling the pain after Nick Chubb’s season ends with horrific knee injury

The heart and soul of the team took a direct shot from Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick after a 5-yard run to the 3 that bent the left knee beyond awkwardly with his foot in the ground. The entire offense and much of the defense ran onto the field to wish Chubb well before he was driven off in a cart.

He was quickly ruled out, and coach Kevin Stefanski said he’ll miss the rest of the season with a “very significant” injury. An MRI will reveal the exact damage, but a league source confirmed to The Chronicle-Telegram he’s believed to have multiple torn ligaments.

The Browns scored on the next play and retook the lead in the third quarter, but the devastation of the injury lingered.

“He never takes practices off, offseason always working,” cornerback Greg Newsome II said. “I would say he’s one of the main guys on the team who we kind of embody our culture around. It’s super tough.

“The season’s going to be for him. Everything we do, every practice, we’re going to think about him. Every game we’re going to play for him. This season’s going to be dedicated to Nick Chubb.”

The Browns were poised to improve to 4-23 here since returning in 1999, taking a 22-19 lead with 10:01 left in the third quarter courtesy of Chubb’s backups. Jerome Ford reversed field and flew past the defense for a 69-yard gain to the 1. Pierre Strong Jr. capped the drive with a touchdown.

The Browns couldn’t finish the job.

Donovan Peoples-Jones struggled to judge punts all day, let another bounce and it rolled all the way to the 6-yard line. After the Browns picked up a first down, the Steelers scored their second defensive touchdown of the night with 6:58 left.

Outside linebacker Alex Highsmith lined up wide and beat left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. around the edge. Highsmith stripped quarterback Deshaun Watson as he tried to escape, and the ball bounced to outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who returned it 17 yards for a touchdown and the final margin.

Wills and rookie right tackle Dawand Jones were always going to be a key to the game in the matchup with Highsmith and Watt. At the biggest moment, the Browns lost huge.

“Full blame on me,” Wills said. “I had trouble with the snap count that play. On the road games that happens, it’s pretty much over with from there. I’ve got to be better in that aspect.”

The Steelers, who were a home underdog to the Browns for the first time since 1989, got their first defensive score on the game’s first play.

Watson’s short pass to the left bounced off tight end Harrison Bryant’s hands and made a pit stop with Fitzpatrick before winding up in the arms of Highsmith, who returned it 30 yards down the Steelers sideline.

After the extra point, the Browns were down 7-0 nine seconds into the game. It was the fastest score for the Steelers since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.

The sloppiness continued, as the Browns lost three fumbles and were penalized eight times for 81 yards.

“That starts with me as a quarterback, as the leader, I can’t allow that,” Watson said. “The communication’s got to be better, fundamentals got to be better and I’ve just got to make sure we’re all on the same page, especially on the road.”

The weather was much better than in the 24-3 opening win at Cleveland Browns Stadium, but Watson wasn’t. He was 22-for-40 for 235 yards, a touchdown, an interception, six sacks, two lost fumbles and a 70.3 passer rating.

He had the ball twice in the last seven minutes but couldn’t put together a drive, going 3-for-7 for 30 yards with two sacks and a 3-yard scramble.

“I feel like tonight it was sh****,” Watson said of his performance. “As far as my part, it’s not good enough.

“I can take the full blame, I can take the criticism and I’m going to do that. And I told everyone in our offense, the whole team, I’m going to do better for this team, for this organization so we can win games like that.”

He was penalized 15 yards twice for grabbing the face mask of a defender and twisting as he tried a stiff-arm.

“Wasn’t really lost my composure, but I apologize to the team,” Watson said. “So I’ve got to do a better job of just hitting with the palm, I guess, and just releasing as much as I can so we don’t get those penalties.”

Watson’s lone reliable connection was with receiver Amari Cooper, who had been questionable to play with a groin injury sustained Saturday in practice. He started and caught seven passes for 90 yards.

The defense wasn’t as sharp as in the win over the Bengals and gave up a couple of big plays but held Pittsburgh’s offense to one touchdown, 255 yards and 4-for-14 on third down. At one point in the third quarter the Browns had outgained the Steelers 147-12 on the ground.

The game felt different after the Chubb injury and featured a variety of other injuries, including Fitzpatrick getting knocked out with a chest injury. Newsome left with a hyperextended elbow but hopes to play Sunday at home against the Texans.

The first quarter took an eternity, as each team committed two turnovers, including a Watson fumble on a keeper on fourth-and-1. He was originally ruled to have picked up the first down, but the Steelers challenged between quarters and the replay showed the ball came out.

Cleveland cornerback Denzel Ward forced a fumble by receiver Gunner Olszewski after a catch behind the line, and safety Grant Delpit recovered for his second turnover after an interception. He returned it 14 yards before fumbling, then the ball bounced around the field before going out of bounds.

The Browns turned it into a touchdown. On the play after Chubb’s injury, Watson scrambled right and threw 3 yards to Ford.

The Steelers responded with 52- and 50-yard field goals by Chris Boswell and a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown by receiver George Pickens (four catches, 127 yards, TD). He caught a slant over the middle as quarterback Kenny Pickett got crunched by defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and outran the defense. Pickett went 15-for-30 for 222 yards, two sacks, a touchdown, an interception and a 71.8 rating.

The defense didn’t allow another touchdown, but it didn’t matter. The offense did, and the team made enough mistakes throughout the night.

Chubb is a four-time Pro Bowler and arguably the league’s best pure runner and the team’s best player. Despite his loss, Stefanski said “absolutely” all the team’s goals remain in place.

“It’s a team game,” he said. “Nobody’s bigger than the team. I don’t say that to discount the person, the player, the teammate that Nick Chubb is and what he means to this organization. I’m not discounting that. But this is a team game. It’s the greatest team game there is.

“So we got to rally and we’ll rally without Nick. He’ll be in the building I’m sure when he is back in and he’ll support his team just like we’re going to support him.”

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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