BROWNS 20, STEELERS 14Steelers' record: 6-5One year ago: 8-3Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 64-57STORYLINEThis was an important game for both of these teams, but for decidedly different reasons. The Steelers arrived in Cleveland for the 121st installment in this series having won 16 of the previous 17 against the Browns, but they needed a victory to stay in the thick of the AFC playoff race. For the Browns, a win over the Steelers would serve as an emotional highlight for a fandom that has enjoyed only two winning seasons since the team returned to the NFL in 1999.
Call it a harbinger more than a turning point. Rashard Mendenhall lost a fumble with 11:49 left in the first quarter, and the turnover led to a Cleveland field goal. It would turn out to be the first of seven Steelers turnovers on the day, and those mistakes helped the Browns score 17 of their 20 points.
STAT THAT STANDS OUTThe eight turnovers by the Steelers were the most in a game since the 2011 regular season opener in Baltimore against the Ravens. The Steelers lost that game, 35-7.
WHAT WENT RIGHTOne play after Will Allen dropped a certain interception on a deep pass intended for Travis Benjamin, Brett Keisel tipped a Brandon Weeden pass and it was intercepted by Lawrence Timmons, who returned it 53 yards down the sideline for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. It was the Steelers first interception return for a touchdown since LaMarr Woodley had one for 14 yards as the second of two against the Bengals on Dec. 12, 2010.
On the Browns' first offensive snap following Timmons' pick-six, James Harrison sacked Brandon Weeden. With that sack Harrison has 61.5 for his career to pass Joey Porter for second place on the team's all-time list. Jason Gildon is first with 77.
It was a third-and-5 for the Browns at their own 45-yard line late in the first quarter when Brandon Weeden threw a quick pass to TE Benjamin Watson in the left flat. Ryan Clark came up quickly and made a clean tackle after a 2-yard gain to force a punt.
The defense rose up after the Jonathan Dwyer fumble and forced the Browns to punt even though the possession started at the Pittsburgh 34-yard line. Jason Worilds sacked Brandon Weeden, Ryan Clark dumped Trent Richardson for no gain, and Ike Taylor was all over Greg Little on an attempted pass on third down. The Browns punted.
Drew Butler flips the field position in Pittsburgh's favor early in the third quarter. His 55-yard punt was supported by great coverage from Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, who tackles Josh Cribbs for no gain on the return. Browns' first possession of the second half started at the Cleveland 24-yard line.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Before the game started, Willie Colon's knee acted up, and he was replaced in the starting lineup by Doug Legursky. Colon first was bothered by the knee on the Friday before the game, and he had been added to the injury report that day. That broke a streak of four straight games in which the Steelers had been able to start the same five offensive linemen.
The Steelers' first two offensive plays were runs by Rashard Mendenhall, and on the second DT Ahtyba Rubin forced a fumble that FS Usama Young recovered at the Pittsburgh 44-yard line. The Browns turned that into a field goal that cut the Steelers' lead to 7-3.
The possession was a disaster from the start. The Steelers started at their own 16-yard line, and it included a holding penalty on Ramon Foster, then a 3-yard loss by Jonathan Dwyer, and then Isaac Redman had the ball stripped by DE Juqua Parker, with CB Buster Skrine recovering at the Steelers' 10-yard line. Three plays later, Brandon Weeden threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to TE Jordan Cameron, the first allowed by the Pittsburgh defense in its past 29 possessions.
The touchdown pass to Cameron gave the Browns a 10-7 lead, and on the ensuing kickoff Stevenson Sylvester was flagged for holding, and so the Steelers began that possession at their own 9-yard line.
When Jonathan Dwyer lost a fumble that MLB D'Qwell Jackson recovered for the Browns at the Pittsburgh 34-yard line with three minutes left in the first half, all three of the guys the Steelers had planned on using as ball carriers had lost fumbles.
Before the first quarter was over, LaMarr Woodley had injured his left ankle, returned to the game to try it, and then left again after only a couple of plays. He was replaced by Jason Worilds.
Bad start to the second half. A first down pass to Mike Wallace that would have gained 9 yards to the 31-yard line is nullified by a holding penalty on Mike Adams. Ball at the 11-yard line instead. A delay of game penalty later, the Steelers end up punting from their own 21-yard line.
On second down from the Pittsburgh 20-yard line, Charlie Batch had Mike Wallace open deep down the field, but the ball was underthrown and bounced off the helmet of Browns safety T.J. Ward. On the next play, Batch attempted an out pattern to Plaxico Burress along the far sideline, but CB Sheldon Brown cut underneath the route and intercepted the ball at the Steelers 31-yard line.
After Trent Richardson's 15-yard touchdown run gave the Browns a 20-14 lead, 17 of Cleveland's points had come off Steelers turnovers.
Another installment of: Penalties, penalties, penalties. An 8-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall was nullified by a holding penalty on Heath Miller, and then a 33-yard pass to Miller was nullified by a holding penalty on Kelvin Beachum, and that set up a third-and-32. The Steelers eventually punted from their own 22-yard line.
A second interception by Charlie Batch came on a ball thrown slightly behind Mike Wallace on a crossing pattern, and when Wallace tipped the ball into the air it was picked off by DT Billy Winn.
A third interception by Batch came with three minutes left in the fourth quarter on an attempt deep down the field to Mike Wallace. The ball was underthrown and intercepted by CB Joe Haden. That was the sixth turnover of the day for the Steelers.
The seventh turnover ended it. Chris Rainey spun away from one tackler, only to get hit by D'Qwell Jackson and then T.J. Ward in a knee-twisting scenario and the ball squirted loose.
Attempt to thwart Towel scrapped
It happens just about everywhere the Steelers play, and especially at those venues where the black-and-gold clad are a threat to take over the stadium. Teams hosting the Steelers have a history of "scheduling" promotions where all fans are given something to twirl in the air, an obvious attempt to camouflage the gold Terrible Towels Steelers fans always carry with them.
Last week, the Browns said that they would hand out white flags for fans to wave during Sunday's game against the Steelers. Shortly after the announcement, the idea was scrapped, mainly because of what waving a white flag has come to represent.
"After further and careful consideration, we felt it was in the best interests of everyone involved that we not have a giveaway item at tomorrow's game," the statement said. "It is something that was intended to be fun for our fans and that they could rally around, and we regret that some didn't perceive it that way. We want to thank all of our fans for their tremendous support and we look forward to seeing them out in force at the stadium tomorrow."