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Commentary: Sure, it was ugly, boring and unwatchable at times, but who cares? It was a win over the hated Steelers

CLEVELAND — How could a game that dull be that exciting?

There were portions of Sunday’s Browns-Steelers game when the teams looked like they were taking turns falling down a flight of stairs.

In the three-hour-and-six-minute pie fight the teams combined to run 133 plays from scrimmage.

Only two of them were touchdowns.

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One by each team.

Browns 13, Steelers 10: Dorian Thompson-Robinson leads winning drive as Cleveland improves to 7-3

Thanks to team MVP Dustin Hopkins, the Browns out-field goaled the visitors 2-1, and that was the difference in a game that at times, if you didn’t have a dog in the fight, was almost unwatchable.

Browns fans, however, have long ago stopped caring about style points. For them it’s “just win, baby.”

If you can beat the hated Steelers by starting your backup quarterback — one of them, at least — and scoring just one touchdown, then you score just one touchdown, forget about the rest, and go home a winner.

Browns 13, Steelers 10, Eye candy 0.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson comes through in clutch, leads drive to beat Steelers

“To come away with that one was pretty special,” said Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who knows better than anyone the kind of needles he’s trying to thread with a flawed roster. “I thought the guys stuck together. They fought for each other.”

Stefanski also said, “It wasn’t pretty, but it doesn’t have to be.”

He’s right about that, because that’s how it’s going to be for the Browns and for most teams counting on a rookie backup quarterback to lead the team to a division title, or, at least, a trip to the postseason.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, whose first NFL start, against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 1, was a 28-3 horror show loss of epic proportions, started Sunday’s game. Thompson-Robinson was better Sunday than he was nearly a month ago. But he still has a long way to go before he resembles a quarterback who makes opposing teams nervous.

In beating the Steelers — which looks good on any rookie quarterback’s resume — Thompson-Robinson hoisted 43 passes to various intended receivers. He completed 24 of them for 165 yards. He was sacked once and had a very modest quarterback rating of 54.9.

“I was super happy to get this one for my teammates,” said the rookie. “It’s been a whirlwind, but everyone is helping me out. They’ve got my back.”

There were times when Stefanski, through some conservative play calls, seemed to indicate that he still doesn’t fully trust that the rookie’s passes would arrive at their intended target.

There were multiple audible groans from the audience on some of DTR’s wayward missiles, but that shouldn’t be a surprise from a rookie.

His performance was better than his first one, but still a long way from where it needs to be, which isn’t unusual for a rookie. Sunday’s win was a good one, a necessary one, and one in which the rookie backup quarterback rose to the occasion at winning time.

With the score tied at 10, with 78 seconds left in regulation, Thompson-Robinson guided the offense on an out-of-nowhere eight-play, 48-yard drive in 1:16, completing all four of his passes before a spike, to set up Hopkins’ winning field goal with two seconds left.

It wasn’t pretty, but any win using an emergency quarterback counts for a lot.

It was a wildly uneven game for both teams, but when it got to winning time Thompson-Robinson came through.

The question going forward is whether this is sustainable. Trying to win a division while at the same time trying to develop a rookie quarterback isn’t fair to the coach, the franchise and the quarterback himself. Deshaun Watson’s latest injury put the Browns in this predicament. So did the team’s decision-makers in failing to have a veteran quarterback waiting in the wings, if needed.

Nevertheless, that’s where the Browns are now. If Stefanski is able to pull off this one, he will deserve a second NFL Coach of the Year Award.

But a win over the Steelers is a win over the Steelers, style points or not.

“We weren’t able to get enough big plays on offense for the field positioning component, and thus the points component of it,” said peerless pigskin professor and orator Mike Tomlin, the Steelers’ Hall of Fame coach-in-waiting. “That’s what you have to do when you play against a great defense in their venue.”

Ahm yes, the Browns defense. Myles Garrett and the Garrettettes are going to have to continue to do the heavy lifting as the season winds its way to crunch time.

Nothing makes life easier for a rookie quarterback than a defense that prevents the opposing team from hanging big numbers on the scoreboard. The Steelers came into Sunday’s game having been outgained by their opponents in every game this year.

They left Sunday’s game with that unwanted streak still intact.

For the Browns rookie quarterback, the best thing he had going for him Sunday was that the Browns defense only gave up 10 points.

Jim Ingraham is a sports columnist for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and the Medina Gazette. Contact him at 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter

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