Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Browns received plenty of gifts from the Pittsburgh Steelers to kick off the holiday season Sunday afternoon.
The Steelers fumbled 8 times, lost 5 of them, and third-string quarterback Charlie Batch threw 3 interceptions as the Browns hung on for a 20-14 win Sunday afternoon at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“That was an ugly performance,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “When you turn the ball over the way we did, you’re not going to beat anybody. We were highly penalized. When you do those things, you’re going to lose I don’t care who is playing quarterback.”
Fittingly, linebacker Craig Robertson recovered the Steelers’ 5th fumble of the afternoon for the Browns on the final play of the game to seal just the 5th win since 1999 over Pittsburgh.
The 8 takeaways for Cleveland were the most by any NFL team since New Orleans had 8 against St. Louis on Oct. 28, 2001.
“It was just something that we emphasized the whole week in practice about interceptions and getting the ball back to the offense,” cornerback Joe Haden, who had an interception, said. “We know they have a great defense, so the more chances we give our offense, the more chances we have to win. T.J. [Ward] was coming in there just hitting people so hard and everybody was just ‘hawking’ around the ball.
“The defense was just stepping up and doing our thing.”
Aside from forcing 8 turnovers, the Browns defense also allowed just 49 yards on the ground against a Steelers team who hoped to run the ball.
“They were going to come in and run the ball anyway,” defensive tackle Phil Taylor said. “They had Charlie Batch starting. I mean, he can still throw the ball, but we knew that they were coming in the run so we knew we had to ball our fists up and go out there and play.”
The win moved the Browns to 3-3 on the season at home.
“We’ve got to try to establish ourselves as a team that can win at home,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We’ve got to establish ourselves as a team that can win division games. I think that’s important. Last year I got a taste of the rivalry, and I know how important it is for us to play good football against an outstanding football team. I think we found a way to do that.”
Quarterback Brandon Weeden, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 158 yards, a touchdown and interception, went to the locker room with trainers at about the 4:10 mark of the 4th after his head collided with Joe Thomas’ knee on his way to the ground.
Back-up Colt McCoy handed off to Trent Richardson 6 times on the Browns’ final 2 offensive possessions to wind down the clock.
Richardson finished the day with 85 yards on 29 carries and the game winning score.
“To finish a close game like that is big for us,” Richardson said. “That’s the best defense I’ve played against since I’ve been in the NFL, hands down. I took a few shots and that was the hardest-hitting game I’ve played in so far.”
Weeden had his third throw of the opening drive tipped at the line by Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel and picked off by linebacker Lawrence Timmons. He returned it 53 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a quick 7-0 advantage.
“We’ve always talked about how you want to have a good start, you’d like to get ahead of a team and then stay ahead throughout,” Shurmur said. “We have a good locker room of guys that just keep playing regardless of the situation and we were moving the football there. As we all know, tipped balls happen and that was an extremely bad play. I mean, that’s just the way it is.
“I thought our guys went back on the field on offense, defense and special teams and just kept playing.”
The Browns quickly went 3 and out on their second offensive series but the defense began ripping the football from Steeler ball carriers.
Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin stripped running back Rashard Mendenhall on his 2nd carry of the day and safety Usama Young covered up the loose ball at the Steelers’ 44.
After Trent Richardson and Montario Hardesty combined to run for 27 yards on 4 carries during the drive, Phil Dawson kicked a 28-yard field goal to get the Browns on the board.
Running back Isaac Redman lost the second fumble of the afternoon for the Steelers when he was stripped by defensive end Juqua Parker. Cornerback Buster Skrine came out of the pile with the football to set the Browns up 1st and goal at the 10.
Weeden turned the gift into a touchdown on 3rd down when he found tight end Jordan Cameron for a 5-yard score and a 10-7 lead.
“It was a great read by Brandon [Weeden],” Cameron said. “There were no safeties over the top and we threw it right into the corner. It was all him. He threw the ball in the perfect spot. Yeah, it was great.”
Dawson extended the lead to 13-7 with a 32 yard field goal with 3:26 left in the half – his 27th straight successful kick tying his own team record.
Jonathan Dwyer joined the fumble parade when safety T.J. Ward put a hat on the ball allowing linebacker D’Qwell Jackson recover it at the Steelers 34 late in the 2nd quarter.
Weeden looked to go deep immediately on 1st down but was sacked by Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds setting up Reggie Hodges 4th punt of the afternoon.
Despite the solid half of play, the Browns went into the locker room down 1.
Cornerback Sheldon Brown was flagged for pass interference in the end zone against Plaxico Burress, who had just dropped the first pass thrown to him, to set Pittsburgh up 1st and goal at the 1 with :07 to play in the half.
4th string running back Chris Rainey was stopped up the middle but bounced out to the left side and walked in for the score with a second left to give Pittsburgh a 14-13 halftime lead.
Brown atoned for the flag in the 3rd quarter by stepping in front of Burress to pick off batch at the Steelers 31 – the 4th turnover forced by the defense.
The offense quickly turned it into 7 when Trent Richardson ran 15 yards up the middle to put the Browns back on top at 20-14 with 5:19 to play in the 3rd.
It would be all the Browns would need.