CLEVELAND — With the offense decimated by injuries, the top-ranked defense knew it needed to come up big again.
With one large exception, the Browns locked down Pittsburgh, and the offense did just enough to escape with a crucial 13-10 AFC North win at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday.
“Being in close games, we’re just trying to find ways to finish those games with the win,” cornerback Denzel Ward said. “We’ve been playing good complementary football right now.”
Star defensive end Myles Garrett set the tone from the defense’s first play when he blasted through the offensive line and sacked Kenny Pickett, who was ruled to have barely been in front of the goal line to avoid a safety.
The replay showed the ball was close to the goal line when Garrett tackled Pickett and stopped his forward progress. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski tried to challenge the play, but the officials didn’t acknowledge the flag before the Steelers ran another play, which almost resulted in another safety when running back Najee Harris ran into a wall at the line of scrimmage.
“I for sure thought it was a safety and I thought the next was a safety, too,” Garrett said. “But just a little stunt that we had and slanted to the B gap. They were trying to jump me so they could double-team and he got a little bit too wide, was able to rip through the inside arm, saw daylight and saw Pickett and there wasn’t anywhere for him to move. He couldn’t step out or move left to right because it would’ve been an even more obvious safety, and then finished the play.”
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) November 19, 2023
It wasn’t a pretty game for either offense.
The Browns barely outgained the Steelers 259 to 249 in total yards. Most of Pittsburgh’s yardage came on the second play of the third quarter when running back Jaylen Warren broke loose for a 74-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 10-7.
Pickett joins an ever-growing list of quarterbacks grounded by the Browns, going 15-of-28 for 106 yards. Cleveland’s No. 1-ranked passing defense in yards and completion percentage sacked him three times with Garrett accounting for two, giving him 13 on the season.
The Steelers only had 64 total yards at halftime. Warren was the bright spot of the Pittsburgh offense, finishing with 129 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. He came close to breaking a couple of other big plays, but aside from the touchdown run the Browns defense did a good job of keeping him bottled up.
“Man, it was sloppy on defense, to be honest,” safety Grant Delpit said. “They ran the ball for like an 80-yard touchdown. Gotta clean some stuff up, but found a way to win. The most important part.”
Despite the Browns building a 10-0 lead, Pittsburgh battled back and tied the game at 10 on a 28-yard field goal from Chris Boswell with 7:40 left. The teams combined for four punts in the next 6:22, the second punt from the Browns a painful one after tight end David Njoku dropped what would have been a sure-fire first down with 1:56 left. Instead, the Steelers got the ball back with 1:42.
The Browns forced three incomplete passes and Pittsburgh had to punt. At that point, the Cleveland fans started chanting “D-T-R” in an effort to will the Browns to victory. Rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson responded with four straight completions and Dustin Hopkins won the game with a 34-yard field goal with two seconds left.
“Pin your ears back and make the play,” Garrett said of the defensive stop before the field goal. “It’s do-or-die time. Leave it out on the field. This is where heart means more than skill at this moment. So whatever happens, you empty the tank on this drive.”