Steelers fall to Browns, 13-6
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is hit by Browns safety Mike Adams in the fourth quarter of last night's game at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
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CLEVELAND -- On a bitterly cold, windy night, as angry swells from Lake Erie next door lapped over seawalls, the Steelers season sailed into darkness.
The Cleveland Browns, who have the dubious daily double of last-place rankings on offense and defense in the NFL, became the latest of the league's dregs to dine at the Steelers' table.
The final score was 13-6, the fifth consecutive loss for the defending Super Bowl champions, including ones to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. It dropped their record to 6-7 and their faint playoff hopes likely have expired.
"To lose five straight coming off a Super Bowl from last year, it's embarrassing for me,'' said receiver Hines Ward, who shook off a hamstring injury to play last night. "It just hurts, it hurts a lot. There's nothing fun about losing games, especially five in a row. We're better than that, we should play better than that."
The Browns -- No. 32 on offense and defense -- ended their own seven-game losing streak and improved their record to 2-11. The Steelers have the longest current losing streak in the NFL.
It is a plummet with no end in sight and an inexplicable fall from 6-2 and a first-place tie in the AFC North Division for the erstwhile champs. The "undesirable pattern of behavior" -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's words Monday -- continued.
The loss, and losing, apparently struck a chord with at least one of them. Linebacker James Harrison, last season's NFL defensive MVP, threw his helmet to the turf and could be seen screaming at teammates at the end of the game.
"I thought they fought," Tomlin said. "I thought they stuck together, but it wasn't enough to win the football game. ... Fighting and sticking together are not winning football games for us."
The Steelers must win two of their final three games to avoid their first losing season since 2003 and the first in Tomlin's coaching tenure. It also ended their 12-game winning streak against the Browns and in doing so the Browns sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger eight times.
Nothing worked. These Browns also were playing without five injured starters on defense and their starting running back.
Thus, the second Super Bowl hangover in four seasons lingers.
"Were finding new and different ways to not rise up," Tomlin said. "This one tonight happened in all three phases."
This is what the Browns have looked like for much of this season, only they switched uniforms last night. The Steelers looked like the Browns and the Browns looked like the old Steelers.
In fact, Cleveland beat the Steelers at what used to be their game. The Browns gouged them for 171 yards rushing, a 4.6-yard average per carry in a game in which quarterback Brady Quinn completed only 6 of 19 for 90 yards.
Joshua Cribbs, working often out of the wildcat offense, ran eight times for 87 yards and Chris Jennings added 73 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown run that was the first scored by a Cleveland running back this season.
The Steelers wanted to run and, for the most part, could not. Rashard Mendenhall had 53 of their 75 yards. Roethlisberger was 18-of-32 passing for 201 yards.
Despite the cold and wind, there was not a turnover in the game.
Phil Dawson kicked a 29-yard field goal to start things off for Cleveland in the first quarter, giving the Steelers special teams a hand in another score. Cribbs returned a punt 55 yards to the Steelers 8 to set up Dawson's first score of the game.
Dawson kicked another 29-yarder with 7:20 left before the half to give the Browns a 6-0 lead.
Another big pass play led to that second score. Quinn threw behind Mohamed Massaquoi, who was loosely covered by Ike Taylor.
The Browns extended their shocking lead to 13-0 when Jennings ran around right end, beating LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior and, finally, William Gay, who tried to knock him out of bounds but could not do so until Jennings hit the pylon for the score with 41 seconds left in the first half.
Cribbs ran 37 yards, taking the snap from center in the wildcat offense, to help set up that score.
The Browns gouged the Steelers for two plays of 37 yards, the other a pass to Massaquoi that led to their second field goal, plus a 24-yard pass completion by Quinn.
The Steelers finally scored on Jeff Reed's 27-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. Santonio Holmes caught a 24-yard pass on that drive for the Steelers.
The Steelers did not look sharp much of the game. They put the supposed sure-handed Mewelde Moore on kickoff returns and he dropped two of them, including the opening kickoff of the second half that had the Steelers start their series from the 12.
It took until late in the third quarter before the Steelers strung together another scoring drive. It started with Holmes' first punt return of the season, a fair catch. It ended with another Reed field goal, from 42 yards with eight seconds left in the third quarter.
On that series, Roethlisberger was sacked for the seventh time.
The Steelers creeped into Browns territory again in the fourth quarter, with a first down at the 36. But a holding penalty against center Justin Hartwig and a dropped pass by Rashard Mendenhall, wide open over the middle, scuttled that drive.
They got another chance with 6:16 left in the game, starting a drive at their 21, trailing by seven. They reached Cleveland territory, picking and plucking away in short chunks.
Ward caught a third-and-6 pass from midfield for a first down at the Browns' 43. But on the next play, Cleveland sacked Roethlisberger for an eighth time, a loss of 9, to the Steelers' 48.
A 13-yard pass to Heath Miller set up a fourth-and-6 at Cleveland's 39. Roethlisberger's pass, intended for Holmes, was knocked down, and the Steelers' playoff hopes were knocked out. Yet they still must play three more times.
"When you lose five straight," Farrior said, "you grasp for anything to try to get control of the situation."
First Published December 11, 2009 12:27 am