They didn’t look like themselves at all. Not with the turnovers, penalties and blown chances.
These weren’t the Pittsburgh Steelers of old.
And it had little to do with their 37-year-old quarterback.
“That was an ugly performance,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
With their playoff lives in peril, the Steelers committed eight turnovers and third-string QB Charlie Batch didn’t do enough to overcome the miscues as Pittsburgh lost 20-14 to Cleveland on Sunday, giving the Browns a rare win over their hated rivals.
“When you turn the ball over the way we did, you’re not going to beat anybody,” Tomlin said. “We were highly penalized. When you do those things, you’re going to lose I don’t care who is playing quarterback.”
Batch, forced to start because of injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, threw three interceptions and the Steelers (6-5) lost five fumbles, the last on a desperation final-play lateral as they fell to the Browns (3-8) for just the second time in 18 games.
Batch finished 20 of 34 for 199 yards, but couldn’t rally the stumbling Steelers the way Big Ben can.
“I have to put it on my shoulders,” Batch said. “We had a chance to win, actually two, and I turned it over. Can’t do that. I made some bad throws. We had all the fumbles, and yet we still had a chance to win, that’s the crazy part.”
Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden sustained a concussion in the final minutes, allowing backup Colt McCoy to come in and finish off a victory Cleveland fans will savor long after this season ends.
Coach Pat Shurmur said the 29-year-old Weeden was being treated for the head injury, which happened when he hit his head while throwing an incompletion.
Browns rookie Trent Richardson rushed for 85 yards, scoring the go-ahead TD on a 15-yard run in the third.
For one of the few times in recent years, Cleveland finally won a close game. And this one pleased new owner Jimmy Haslam, who had a minority share of the Steelers before buying the Browns for $1.05 billion in August. Haslam enjoyed not seeing “Terrible Towels” waving after the game.
“I’ve seen it the other way around,” Haslam said. “It’s good to see their fans leaving and our fans staying and cheering. It was a great win for us. It’s nice for me, but it’s bigger for our coaches and our players.”
It also sent president Mike Holmgren out on a winning note. After the game, the Browns announced that it was the final game for Holmgren, who has been replaced by new CEO Joe Banner.
One of Haslam’s goals was to revive one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries, which has been shaded in yellow and black for most of the past decade. Even with the loss, Pittsburgh is 23-5 against Cleveland since 1999, but in each of the seasons they lost one game to the Browns, the Steelers missed the playoffs.
That could happen again. Pittsburgh is tied with Cincinnati for second place in the AFC North behind Baltimore, and will visit the Ravens next week.
Tomlin has a lot to work on before then.
All four Pittsburgh running backs fumbled and Batch was understandably rusty. The Steelers were also called for several holding penalties that slowed drives. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress, re-signed during the week, did not have a reception but did draw an interference penalty in the end zone.
“We aren’t going to have any team meetings, not going to sit in a circle and sing ‘Kumbaya’ or anything like that,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We are going to do what we do after we win a game – go back to work and figure out a way to play better.”
Pittsburgh lost linebacker LaMarr Woodley in the first half with a left ankle injury, and offensive lineman Mike Adams went down with an ankle injury in the second half.
Phil Dawson kicked field goals of 28 and 32 yards for the Browns, and has made 27 in a row since last season, tying his team record.
Cleveland’s fourth takeaway set up Richardson’s TD run.
Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown, picked on during the Steelers’ late scoring drive in the first half, intercepted Batch at Pittsburgh’s 31.
Two completions by Weeden got it to the 10, and after a false-start penalty, Richardson burst up the middle, ran through some arm tackles and scored to make it 20-14 with 5:25 left in the third – the game’s final points.
“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.”
The Steelers led 14-13 at halftime despite losing three fumbles, converting just one third down and keeping Batch under wraps.
One play after Brown was called for pushing Burress in the end zone, Chris Rainey, on the field only because the three backs ahead of him fumbled, scored on a 1-yard TD run after being stopped for no gain. He was stuffed on a carry over center by several Browns, who knocked him backward. Rainey, though, kept his legs moving and ran untouched into the end zone with 1 second left before halftime.
It was one of the few highlights for the Steelers, who needed just 71 seconds to take a 7-0 lead.
On Cleveland’s third play, Weeden’s pass to Greg Little was tipped at the line by Steelers end Brett Keisel and caught on the fly by Lawrence Timmons, who took it back 53 yards.
“We started fast,” Clark said. “Lawrence made an impact play and we felt good. Overall, we did a lot of good things. With everything that went wrong, we were one play away.”
Now, the Steelers have no room for error.
“We have to get ourselves together in a hurry and figure out a way to get some wins,” said tight end Heath Miller.
Notes: The last time an NFL team forced eight turnovers was New Orleans against St. Louis on Oct. 28, 2001. The Browns hadn’t gotten eight turnovers since 1989. ... The teams combined for 18 penalties – 9 apiece. ... The Steelers gained just 49 rushing yards and were 1 of 9 on third downs. .... Tomlin dropped to 9-2 against Browns.
They didn’t look like themselves at all. Not with the turnovers, penalties and blown chances.
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