Analyzing four key moments in the Browns’ 21-18 loss to the Steelers.
- The last thing the Browns wanted to do was put rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer in an early hole during his first NFL start. That’s unfortunately what befell the second-round pick, though, as the offense logged a three-and-out on its first series, and the Browns punt team allowed the worst possible thing to happen.
Linebacker Tyler Matakevich burst through the line of scrimmage to squarely block Britton Colquitt’s punt out into the end zone. With the ball spinning in the back corner, Steelers defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo fell on it to give Pittsburgh an early advantage.
The Steelers offense had the ball for less than 3 minutes in the first quarter but entered the second all tied up, 7-7, because of one big play.
“It was huge,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “Obviously, that is kind of the difference in the game when you look back. The momentum switched. We had a miscommunication there and let a guy go free. We didn’t handle that right early in the a game. That is disappointing, but we have to grow from that.”
- When Kizer preserved his status as Cleveland’s starter with a solid performance against Tampa Bay in the preseason, he was at his best on third downs, converting one after another even when he faced some undesirable situations.
On his first NFL scoring drive, he was similarly strong, and he got a big boost from Duke Johnson Jr. to extend a possession that would ultimately end with a 1-yard Kizer touchdown run.
Johnson took a short pass from Kizer on third-and-8 and turned it into something bigger. He spun out of a tackle and pushed forward for a 14-yard gain. It was the first of three third-down conversions on the drive, every one as important as the last.
“It was awesome,” Kizer said. “Obviously, it was at the point of the game where we needed some momentum to turn back after a special teams touchdown. It is up to us on offense to make sure that we go out there and swing things back our way. A little energy afterward is also good for the team.”
- Cleveland’s defense had Pittsburgh’s offense completely stuffed through most of the first half, but a fortuitous bounce got the Steelers rolling and helped them grab a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Facing a second-and-8 on his own 11-yard line, Roethlisberger heaved a pass to Antonio Brown 25 yards down the field. A diving Joe Schobert got enough of his hand on it to change the ball’s motion, but it still found its way into Brown’s hands. The All-Pro receiver turned it into a huge game by running down the field for more en route to a 50-yard catch.
“I do everything I can and I screw Jabrill (Peppers) over in the end because he’s making a good break on the ball,” Schobert said. “I kind of threw him off because it tipped behind to Brown.”
The Steelers took the lead a few plays later when Roethlisberger connected with Jesse James for the first of two touchdowns. The second one extended Pittsburgh’s lead in the third quarter following a long pass interference penalty drawn by Brown.
- The Browns showed the right kind of resiliency in the fourth quarter, as Kizer led a touchdown drive and picked up the two-point conversion to slice Pittsburgh’s lead to three with 3:36 to play.
Cleveland just never got the ball back, and Brown had a lot to do with it.
Facing a second-and-12 after a penalty, Roethlisberger rolled out of the pocket under pressure and heaved a deep ball to Brown, who was surrounded by Browns players. Brown leaped and came down with the ball and held onto it as he fell to the ground. The ball squirted out while Brown was on the ground, but officials let the play stand after a review.
“They threw the ball to him and he found a way to make the play,” Browns cornerback Jason McCourty said. “That guy is a hell of a player. I’ve heard guys say that he works his butt off every single day. It shows up on Sunday the work that he puts in. He’s a playmaker. Down the stretch, you know the ball is going to him. Whether he is covered or not covered, he finds a way to make plays.”