This wasn’t a football game, it was a 60-minute rock fight, and the Steelers beat the Browns again.
Of course, they did.
The Steelers also ended Nick Chubb’s season, confused and harried Deshaun Watson, rattled the Browns receivers at times and prevented the Browns from starting a season 2-0, something the Browns haven’t done since 1993, when Kevin Stefanski was 11 years old.
Meanwhile, the leader Deshaun Watson is supposed to be was nowhere in sight. The $230 million man, in his first real test in a hostile environment, came up woefully short.
The Steelers played like a desperate team.
The Browns played like a team seeking leadership from their quarterback. But Watson wasn’t up to it. He completed 22 of 40 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown. But he also threw an interception, had two turnovers and was sacked six times.
He was also pretty much played to a standoff by Steelers second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Even when it seemed like the Browns were outplaying the Steelers, the Steelers were outplaying the Browns. When the Browns needed to get off to a good start in order to grab the momentum needed to keep the Steelers and their fans under control, Watson, on the game’s first play from scrimmage, threw a pick-six that gave Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead nine seconds into the game.
That’s right, nine seconds.
These are the kind of games in which Watson’s salary says he should be a leader. But for much of the night he didn’t look like one. In the first half, he completed 10 of 21 passes, was sacked three times and had a passer rating of 58.
The Browns defense did a good job of trying to keep up with the Steelers. The Browns held the Pittsburgh offense to no first downs in the first quarter, outgained the Steelers 106 yards to 19 in the quarter but were still losing 7-3. Is that even possible?
The wind came out of the Browns’ sails in the second quarter when Chubb had his knee blown up by a tackle near the goal line which ended his night and his season.
The Browns came to Pittsburgh on Monday night on a mission. A modest one, but a mission nonetheless.
They came in search of victory No. 2 in game No. 2. That’s right, they came to Pittsburgh in hopes of leaving Pittsburgh with a record of 2-0. How hard could it be, right?
Turns out, very. They’re 1-1.
The last time the Browns won their first two games in a season their coach was some guy named Belichick, and their quarterbacks — there were three of them — were Bernie Kosar (six starts), Vinny Testaverde (six starts) and Todd Philcox (four starts).
The year was 1993. The Browns started the season 3-0, then lost nine of their next 13 games to finish 7-9.
Ah, the good old days!
Monday night the seemingly new and improved Browns rolled into Pittsburgh with a record of one and zero. That’s right, undefeated, untied and unencumbered by the kind of roster that can cumber the best-laid gridiron plans. Well, sort of.
At the start of play Monday night, the Steelers, so far in the 2023 season, had more rivers than victories, while the Browns, with a victory, would be tied with Baltimore for first place in the AFC North.
This is certainly the Browns’ best roster in this century. They appear to be loaded everywhere. Just ask the Bengals, who got taken to the woodshed by Cleveland in the first game of the season.
At times Monday night the woodshed seemed to beckon the Browns, especially after Chubb was carted off the field and Watson was trying to locate his leadership gene.
Watson’s game-long frustration was evident near the end of the third quarter when, at the end of a scramble he was pushed out of bounds by a Steelers defender, then retaliated by shoving the Steeler into the bench area. That drew an unnecessary roughness penalty that helped pull the plug on a Browns drive.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Browns kept chopping wood, trying to keep the game within reach. They did so thanks to a long third-quarter run by Jerome Ford that led to a touchdown and a 22-19 Browns lead that eventually disappeared.
The Browns had a couple of last-ditch attempts at a heroic, game-winning drive, but Watson was unable to deliver.
How hard can a 2-0 start be?
For the Browns — still — very.