CLEVELAND - Too little, too late.
The Steelers had a better offensive performance working on a short week Thursday night against the Browns, but it didn't add up to a victory, as Cleveland's running game proved too much to handle in a 29-17 loss here at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The loss was the second in five days for the Steelers, who dropped to 1-2 and won't play again until they host the Jets Oct. 2 at Acrisure Stadium.
That's good news, because the Steelers have some things to work on before they take the field again, namely how to avoid lulls on offense and defense that seem to coincide with each other.
The Browns (2-1) exploited the Steelers' second-consecutive fourth quarter swoon, despite playing without quarterback Deshaun Watson, suspended for the first 11 games of the 2022 season for off-field issues
The Steelers' offense, which posted 247 yards through the first three quarters, failed to pick up a first down on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Browns went on a long drive early in the quarter to make it a two-score game, led by running back Nick Chubb, who gained 113 yards on 23 carries.
"If you can't slow down Chubb, you can't beat this group," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "We kind of knew that and we didn't get it done."
And it was Chubb on a touchdown run that put this game out of reach.
Chubb's initial leap over the top of the pile into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 was stopped by Myles Jack. But Chubb twisted as he fell to the ground, just falling over the goal line to give the Browns a 23-14 lead with 9:29 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The play capped off an 11-play, 80-yard drive for the Browns that saw them convert a pair of third-and-1s, including Jacoby Brissett hitting Amari Cooper for a 32-yard gain to get a big chunk of yardage.
"They did what they wanted to and we could not do anything to stop them," said Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Brissett and the Browns hurt the Steelers in short yardage throughout the game, with Brissett picking up two third-and-1s and one fourth-and-1 in the game on quarterback sneaks.
Brissett completed 21-of-31 passes for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns without making a critical error, while Cooper had seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown and tight end David Njoku added nine receptions for 89 yards and a score.
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 3 game against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium
The Steelers, meanwhile, got a better performance from their offense, though it didn't necessarily show on the scoreboard on a windy night.
Mitch Trubisky completed 20 of 32 passes for 207 yards, while the Steelers rushed for 104 yards on 22 carries as a team.
"We just have to be better in the second half and I thought the first half we did pretty good," said Trubisky. "We are getting there, it is just not where it needs to be and we need to get a victory. The first half we made steps in the right direction but the second half just was not good enough."
After Chubb's touchdown made it 23-14, Trubisky led a quick field goal drive late in the game, connecting with tight end Pat Freiermuth for gains of 26 and 15 yards to set up a 34-yard Chris Boswell field goal.
Tomlin could have opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 after the Browns lined up with too many men on the field, but took the points, knowing the Steelers would have to recover an onside kick and score again to have a chance.
The Steelers failed to recover the kick and the Browns ran most of the remaining game clock out, punting the ball back with just nine seconds remaining.
The Steelers attempted to run a desperation lateral play, but Najee Harris' flip backwards went into the end zone, where it was recovered by Denzel Ward to account for the final points.
It didn't look like it would go that way early.
Miles Killebrew, who blocked two kicks in 2021, got his hand on a Corey Bojorquez punt after Cleveland's second possession, deflecting it. The punt went just 25 yards and the Steelers took over at the Cleveland 48.
But Boswell missed a 50-yard field goal attempt wide right, giving Cleveland great field position at its own 40.
The Browns took advantage of that, aided by a 36-yard Chubb run off the right side of the line to score the game's first touchdown on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brissett to Amari Cooper. Cooper got matched on safety Terrell Edmunds in the slot and ran a simple slant out for the score.
Trailing 7-0, the Steelers went to the no-huddle offense on their third possession, and quickly went 75 yards to tie the game at 7-7 on the first play of the second quarter.
The big play in the drive was a beautiful 38-yard catch by rookie wide receiver George Pickens over rookie cornerback Martin Emerson. Trubisky rolled to his right with plenty of open field in front of him, but decided to give Pickens a chance one-on-one down the field and the rookie responded with a one-handed catch, reaching behind his body over his head to haul it in.
Harris finished off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, blasting through safety John Johnson at the goal line to tie the game at 7-7.
The Browns responded, however, going on a 79-yard touchdown drive, with Brissett doing most of the damage, completing 7-of-9 passes on the drive for 71 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Njoku.
But rookie placekicker Cade York's PAT hit the right crossbar – to the same end Boswell had missed his field goal – and the Browns settled for a 13-7 lead with 8:58 remaining in the first half.
The Steelers stuck with the no-huddle attack on their next possession and took their first lead at 14-13 with 3:50 remaining, scoring on a 1-yard run by Trubisky on a read-option keeper. The Steelers ran the ball eight times for 43 yards on the scoring drive.
Cleveland drove to the Pittsburgh 32 with just under one minute left in the first half, but Brissett's short pass to Cooper on fourth down, which was originally ruled a completion at the 28, was overturned upon review.
Getting the ball back at their own 32 with 30 seconds remaining and one timeout, the Steelers drove to the Cleveland 43, but couldn't get into field goal range and took a 14-13 lead into the half.
The Steelers had a promising drive to start the second half stall after reaching the Cleveland 41, when Harris was caught for a 4-yard loss on a dumpoff and right tackle Chuks Okorafor was penalized for being downfield early on an inside screen to Jaylen Warren that Warren took to the Cleveland 15.
The Steelers were forced to punt and Cleveland had a 14-play, 70-yard field goal that ended with a 34-yard field goal by York and a 16-14 lead with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter.
Trubisky had Johnson one-on-one down the sideline on third-and-3 on the next possession working against Ward, who shadowed Johnson all over the field, but Ward got a hand in to break up the pass 30 yards downfield and force a punt.
Johnson caught eight passes for 84 yards.
"We lost the damn game," said Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward. "I do not know what else is more demoralizing than that. They ran the ball, we got our (butt) kicked. Simple as that."