CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Everyone can exhale.
The Browns avoided back-to-back late game collapses and now head into a 10-day break 2-1 following a balanced offensive attack and just enough from the defense Thursday night to beat the Steelers 29-17.
Following the collapse Sunday, credit head coach Kevin Stefanski, his staff and the players with regrouping and not allowing it to derail the season.
“I am just proud of them because that is not an easy thing to bounce back from,” Stefanski said. “What I am proud of those guys is you can’t let a loss linger. We won’t let this win linger either. I am proud of how they responded. You have to be resilient.”
Here are our Prime Top Takeaways from Thursday night.
1. Whew. Need we say more?
2. The Browns should be... never mind. They sit atop the AFC North. It’s early, but still matters.
3. The Steelers were offside on their onside kick attempt with 1:46 remaining, regardless of the ball getting batted out of bounds securing possession for the Browns to run out the clock, hence the exhale. What went through Stefanski’s mind during that kick? “A lot,” Stefanski said after a long pause.
4. Nick Chubb continues to be a beast and had fans chanting “Chubb! Chubb! Chubb! Chubb!” a plenty on the final possession. Chubb ran for 113 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries Thursday night. “He gives you an honest day’s work,” Stefanski said. “He ran hard. He gets stronger as the game wears on. Part of that, you have to attribute to Kareem [Hunt] coming in there and taking the workload. That 1-2 punch, we have talked about it. It is 1A and 1B.” Chubb ripped off runs of 36, 16 and 13 yards in addition to demoralizing the Steelers defense.
5. To Stefanski’s point, Hunt finished with 47 yards on 12 carries plus an additional 14 yards on three catches.
6. Amari Cooper was sensational – seven catches, 101 yards and a touchdown. “I am trying to find new ways to tell you how impressed I am with No. 2,” Stefanski said. “He is really, really smart. He is a great teammate. He runs every route imaginable – slants, go-balls, double moves or you name it. I just think he is so versatile. He is such a big, physical receiver. Trustworthy. I really enjoy No. 2.” OK, so he dropped a heater from Jacoby Brissett in the fourth quarter that could’ve put the game away, but nevertheless, Cooper came up big for a second straight week. Cooper is the first Browns receiver since Josh Gordon in 2013 to record back-to-back 100 yard receiving games. “I didn’t know that. I guess that’s cool,” Cooper said. “That 100-yard mark is kind of like the standard for a receiver to have a good game in everybody’s else’s eyes. I just come out here and really do my job. Do what we practice, do what I practice, do what the coaches ask me to do and continue to show that I can just get open and be productive for the team.”
7. Brissett continues to do his job. Thursday night he was 21 of 31 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. “He was solid,” Stefanski, who blamed himself for the slow start, said. “Made some throws and made some big throws in big moments. Battled. He is doing a nice job.” You can see why Stefanski and the organization really like Brissett. He’s a smart, efficient player that won’t put up big numbers but he will position the Browns to win games, not lose them. Through three games, Brissett has done his job extremely well. “I am not in this to answer anybody’s questions,” Brissett said. “I am in here to play good football, play for my teammates and enjoy this moment. That is really what it is all about. I can look those guys in their faces and tell them I am giving them my best. That is what I look forward to.”
8. David Njoku caught his first touchdown of the season – a 7-yard BB from Brissett. Njoku had three catches for 26 yards on the drive. “He always tells me he is always open,” Brissett said. “Every time in the huddle, he’s like, ‘I got you. I got you. I got you.’ Another player who maybe in the first game didn’t see the touches or whatever the case may be but made some big catches tonight. I think he did a really good job. Nobody really gives him credit for what he does in the run game that opens him up so much in the pass game.” He caught the first seven targets to him and finished with a career-high nine catches for 89 yards and the score. “I love everything that requires being a tight end,” Njoku said. “Whatever the team asks from me, I will do it 100 percent. I am just glad we got the win tonight.”
9. The biggest difference in the box score: third down conversions. The Steelers were one for nine while the Browns converted six of 16.
10. Denzel Ward iced the victory cake by recovering a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown to provide the final score as time expired after the Steelers attempted the hot potato play with the ball at their own 4 following a beautiful Corey Bojorquez punt. Cleveland’s punter pinned the Steelers at their own 6 earlier in the game. “It was awesome,” Stefanski said. “A lot of conversation on what to do there at the end. Once the clock became 15 seconds as opposed to maybe it was going to be seven second, I felt like that was the right thing to do with Corey, and he responded. First of all, the punt unit to protect knowing they were likely going to come after that thing and hit a beauty there, that was awesome.”
11. In the third quarter two of the Browns top linebackers got injured. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah went to the medical tent and then the locker room with a quadriceps injury. A few plays later Anthony Walker suffered what appeared to be a serious left knee injury. Trainers immediately came out to attend to him. The cart was brought out and an air cast put on his left leg. The injury appeared to occur when Steelers right guard James Daniels stepped on the back of Walker’s knee. Replays showed that Steelers right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor jumped on Walker after he was already face down on the field, but the officials missed it and did not throw a flag. Both players will undergo MRIs Friday but Walker it appears will miss time.
12. The Steelers had 197 yards of offense at halftime. They finished with 308. It was a tremendous effort defensively over the final two quarters by the Browns to shut the Steelers down.
13. The defensive players-only meeting seemed to pay off. There were huddles and hand signals a plenty and most importantly no breakdowns that cost them touchdowns. “What do you think,” defensive end Myles Garrett said when asked about the results that came from that closed door session early this week. So what did they talk about? “Pretty girls and fast cars,” Garrett joked. Whatever it was, clearly it worked.
14. Steelers receiver George Pickens made the catch of the season late in the first quarter hauling in a 36-yard grab with one hand falling to the ground. Browns cornerback Martin Emerson had tight coverage but was no match for that grab. The play set up Pittsburgh’s first touchdown of the night.
15. Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris disposed of Browns safety John Johnson III with a nasty stiff arm on his way to the end zone to tie the game at 7. Harris, who had over 120 yards from scrimmage in both games last year was limited to 61 Thursday night
16. Safety Ronnie Harrison suffered a hamstring injury in warmups and was listed as questionable minutes before kickoff. He did not play and was ruled out at halftime.
17. Demetric Felton was inactive after struggling the first two weeks in the punt return game. Chester Rogers took over. Rogers fair caught his first attempt at his own 23. He finished with 11 yards on two punt returns.
18. A perfect 10 for Cleveland. The win Thursday night was the 10th, including playoffs, for the Browns over the Steelers since 1999. It also prevented 10 days of depression in northeast Ohio had they not prevailed.