Browns 13 Steelers 6
CLEVELAND — There’s nothing super about the Pittsburgh Steelers anymore.
The defending NFL champions lost their fifth straight and had their playoff hopes thrown for a loss by the lowly Cleveland Browns, who ended a 12-game skid against their bitter rival by beating the Steelers 13-6 on Thursday night in subzero wind chills.
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times and lost for the first time in 11 career games against the Browns (2-11), who extended Pittsburgh’s longest losing streak in six years and defeated the Steelers (6-7) at home for the first time since 2000.
Pittsburgh is going to need help to make the playoffs, a stunning freefall for a team that hit the season’s halfway point at 6-2.
Unexpected losses to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland — three of the NFL’s worst teams with a combined record of 9-28 — have pushed the Steelers to the brink.
“To lose five straight coming off a Super Bowl from last year is embarrassing,” wide receiver Hines Ward said. “There’s nothing fun about losing games, especially five in a row. We’re better than that. We should play better than that. With three games left, you’re going to see who really wants to go out here and play for the pride of this organization and this city and who doesn’t want to be around here.”
Chris Jennings, who began the season on Cleveland’s practice squad, scored on a 10-yard run and Phil Dawson kicked a pair of 29-yard field goals for the Browns, who snapped a seven-game losing streak, a 10-game slide at home and beat the Steelers for just the second time in 20 games.
Roethlisberger tried to rally the Steelers, but his fourth-down pass to Santonio Holmes with less than two minutes left was knocked down by linebacker David Bowens.
When Holmes was tackled on a punt return and the final second ticked off the scoreboard’s clock, frozen Browns fans, who were nearly outnumbered by Terrible Towel-waving Pittsburgh fans, danced in the aisles. Several Cleveland players sprinted down field and jumped into the Dawg Pound section to celebrate.
“It means everything,” Browns do-it-all wide receiver Josh Cribbs said. “There are a lot of Steelers fans around the city so I hope people go to work and kick those Steelers fans.”
The Steelers, whose defence lost some of its spirit and much of its toughness when Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu went down with a knee injury, left the field stunned.
“Hurtful,” Holmes said. “I never thought I’d be losing five games in a row. I know those guys will continue to fight these last three games. Hopefully, we can get back in the lab this summer, regroup and start all over.”
The win was just the second for Cleveland’s embattled first-year coach Eric Mangini, who certainly helped his job security by beating Pittsburgh, something no Browns coach had done since Chris Palmer nine years ago.
Cribbs rushed for 87 yards out of the wildcat formation, had 104 return yards and caught one pass for 9 yards. Cribbs picked up a big first down on a 14-yard run in the fourth quarter when the Browns were trying to milk the clock.
Afterward, Cribbs soaked in his biggest win since turning pro. He knew the Steelers’ 2 1/2-hour bus trip to Pennsylvania would not be pleasant.
“They’re going to hear that bus’ engine all the way back,” Cribbs said. “That’s a lonely ride. I’ve ridden that ride for five years now. It’s time for them to hear that engine all the way home while they look at the stat sheet.”
Needing a touchdown to tie, the Steelers got the ball back with 6:16 left at their own 21. Roethlisberger, who has broken Cleveland’s hearts before, began working his team down field with short passes. But he was sacked at midfield in the final two minutes and had his final pass batted away.
Quinn, making his first career start against Pittsburgh, completed just one pass in the second half and finished 6 of 19 for 90 yards.
Roethlisberger went 18 of 32 for 201 yards. He had trouble throwing in the swirling winds that consistently blew over 20 mph and the Steelers were never able to establish their running game against the Browns’ defence, which came in ranked 32nd overall.
Cleveland’s defence dominated the first half, sacking Roethlisberger five times and pressuring him on nearly every snap.
Jennings’ 10-yard scamper around right end — the first TD scored by a Cleveland running back in more than a year — put the Browns up 13-0 late in the second quarter. With their defence stuffing the Steelers and the temperature dropping, the Browns’ lead seemed insurmountable.
But the Steelers drove 58 yards in 41 seconds and got a 27-yard field goal from Jeff Reed as time expired to close to 13-3 at halftime. Reed’s second field goal with 8 seconds left in the third brought the Steelers within a touchdown.
But Pittsburgh was unable to put together a scoring drive in the fourth, and now the Steelers find themselves in more trouble than they could have imagined.
This is not what Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin had in mind when he promised his team would “unleash hell” in December.
“We’ve found new and different ways to not rise up at critical moments and we’re losing football games because of it,” Tomlin said. “This one happened in all three phases.”