CLEVELAND - The Steelers have made a habit of playing in close games in 2023. And they've made a habit of winning those contests.
Sunday, they lost one.
Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, making his second-career start in place of injured Deshaun Watson, led a late field goal drive as the Browns edged the Steelers, 13-10, at Cleveland Browns Stadium in a key AFC North game.
With the win, Cleveland improves to 7-3, while the Steelers, who lost their first game within the AFC North this season, fall to 6-4. The Steelers are now 6-1 in games decided by 8 points or less.
Cleveland's defense smothered Pittsburgh's passing game, as Kenny Pickett completed 15 of 28 passes for 106 yards. The Steelers did run for 172 yards, led by Jaylen Warren's 129 yards on nine carries – his second-straight 100-yard game.
"It was really the kind of game we anticipated," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "They've got a really good defense. It was a really hostile environment. They had a young quarterback, and so we knew they were going to do some things to minimize our defensive unit. They weren't going to take a lot of risks, and so we were going to have to get stops the traditional way. We just came up a play or two short."
When the Steelers needed something out of their passing game after forcing a Cleveland punt with just under two minutes remaining, Pickett threw three consecutive incompletions to give the ball back to Cleveland.
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 11 game against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium
Thompson-Robinson connected on a pass from the 35 to Elijah Moore at the 50, then had a completion to Amari Cooper to help set up a 34-yard game-winning field goal by Dustin Hopkins with 2 seconds remaining in the game.
Thompson-Robinson completed 24 of 43 passes for 165 yards and one interception, while the Browns gained 96 yards on the ground on 29 carries.
"We did some things right on defense, but we just needed to get off the field that last time," said Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward. "We stopped the run in some instances, but not enough."
The first half went about as badly as it could have for the Steelers without them turning the ball over. They badly lost the battle for field position and it cost them dearly on Cleveland's second possession.
The Browns stalled on the game's opening kickoff, but a punt pinned the Steelers back at their own 9. Pickett was sacked on the Steelers' first play from scrimmage for an 8-yard loss, leaving the Steelers scrambling to get just enough yards to punt.
Pressley Harvin's 43-yard punt gave the Browns the ball at the 50 and the Browns went 50 yards to score on a 1-yard run by Jerome Ford. Ford was initially ruled down short of the goal on third down, but Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski challenged the spot and the ruling was overturned, giving the Browns a 7-0 lead.
The Steelers crossed midfield on their third possession, but Pickett threw incomplete to Diontae Johnson on third-and-5 from the 47 and the Steelers were forced to punt.
They again crossed midfield on their next possession, but Pickett was sacked on third-and-2 for force another punt.
The Browns then ate up most of the final 5:29 of the first half on a 16-play, 77-yard field goal drive that made the score 10-0.
Thompson-Robinson threw incomplete twice from the 6 to conclude the drive, with Trenton Thompson breaking up a pass intended for David Njoku and Joey Porter Jr. keeping Cooper from catching a third-down pass in the end zone.
"It took us too long to settle in," said Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt. "Once we did, we started stopping the run and making some plays. But it took us too long to settle line."
But as badly as the first half went for the Steelers, the second half opened with a bang. On the Steelers' second play from scrimmage, Warren took a pitch from Pickett, picked up blocks from center Mason Cole and tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Darnell Washington to seal off the inside and went 74 yards untouched for a touchdown just 50 seconds into the half to trim Cleveland's lead to 10-7.
The 74-yard run was 10 more offensive yards than the Steelers had in the first half and was the longest run by Pittsburgh since Le'Veon Bell had an 81-yard run in 2014 against the Carolina Panthers.
The teams continued to battle for field position after that, with the Steelers holding off Cleveland twice in their own territory before going on a 62-yard drive fueled by Warren, who had a 14-yard reception to convert a first down and also had four carries for 28 yards. That set up a 28-yard field goal by Chris Boswell that tied the game at 10-10 with 7:10 remaining in the game.
"Hats off to them," said Pickett. "We didn't play and I didn't play nearly well enough."