Everything that worked so well for the Browns during their four-game winning streak never materialized on a tough Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers jumped on the Browns early, dominated at the line of scrimmage and never let Cleveland mount much of a response. The Browns surrendered 24 unanswered points to start the game and ultimately fell 38-7.
The loss dropped the Browns to 4-2 while Pittsburgh maintained its spot atop the AFC North and moved to 5-0.
"Bottom line, got beat," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Credit to them. We did not do anything right obviously. Offensively, could not sustain drives and could not get a first down on third or fourth down.
"If you want to call it sobering, that is probably a pretty good word. We lost this game. We are going to react to this one and figure out how we can do better for the next one."
Baker Mayfield, dealing with a chest injury that limited him in practice throughout the week, threw for 119 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. His day came to an end late in the third quarter, when he was replaced by veteran Case Keenum with the Browns trailing by 24.
Stefanski said Mayfield would start next week in Cincinnati if he's healthy enough to do so.
"I just did not want to see him get hit one more time, and I put that on myself," Stefanski said. "Went into this game knowing we had to keep him clean, and we did not do a good enough job, so that starts with me, obviously. He is a very, very tough player and I know he wants to fight, but it is a long season, we have a game next week and I did not feel like it was the right thing to put him back out there."
The Browns' top-ranked rushing attack couldn't get much going against one of the league's best run defenses. Kareem Hunt rushed for 40 yards, and Cleveland had just two carries go for double digits. The Browns entered Sunday's game averaging 188 rushing yards per game but finished with just 75. It was a big reason why they struggled so much on third downs, converting just one of their 12 opportunities.
Austin Hooper led all Browns receivers with five catches for 52 yards.
"We just got outplayed today. That is what happens when you do not execute," Mayfield said. "Great teams, like I said after the Ravens game, great teams capitalize on your mistakes, and they did. That is why the difference is that drastic."
Cleveland's defense, which entered the game with a league-best 12 turnovers, couldn't get the ball away from a methodical Pittsburgh offense and eventually wore down as the plays piled up. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 162 yards and a touchdown, James Conner rushed for 101 and a score and rookie WR Chase Claypool amassed a combined 81 yards and a touchdown.
"They are a good team. We saw that," said DE Myles Garrett, who collected his seventh sack of the season in Sunday's second quarter. "They were able to move the ball on us through the air and on the ground. They really had the pick of what they wanted. They just outplayed us on defense and offense. They just had our number today."
The Browns were behind by 10 by the midway point in the first quarter, and the deficit only grew from there.
Mayfield's first pass of the game went back the wrong way, as Minkah Fitzpatrick stepped in front of a throw intended for Harrison Bryant and ran back untouched for a 33-yard touchdown return. The first defensive touchdown allowed by the Browns this season staked Pittsburgh to a 10-0 lead less than halfway through the first quarter.
"Just have to see that coverage. I have to see Minkah," Mayfield said. "He is trying to be around the ball. They want to get him around the ball and involved, especially on third downs. Have to take care of the ball."
Pittsburgh's lead grew from there. The Steelers drove 88 yards and plunged into the end zone on a Connor run to take a 17-point lead and extended it to 24 following Mayfield's second interception of the half. Roethlisberger's 28-yard touchdown pass to a wide open James Washington staked the Steelers to a 24-0 advantage with 5:43 left in the second quarter.
The Browns stopped Pittsburgh's scoring run late in the quarter, as Mayfield connected with Rashard Higgins for a 13-yard touchdown — Higgins' second in as many weeks — to send Cleveland into the half trailing 24-7.
The Browns failed to convert a fourth-and-1 deep in their own territory late in the third quarter, and the Steelers promptly turned it into another touchdown when Claypool found the end zone on a 3-yard end-around. Benny Snell capped the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth.
"We were hoping to get the ball, come out and get a drive and get within 10," G Joel Bitonio said. "You can score enough points in this league to come back from being down by that. In the third quarter, we had like eight plays or something. We had two drives, and we didn't do enough on offense. That is going to hurt."
Cleveland will be back in action and back in the division next week when it travels to Cincinnati.
"With any loss, you can't let it linger," Stefanski said. "You learn from it and you move on. We will watch the tape tomorrow, we will have everybody in and we will watch it, what can we learn from it and then move on. That is the simple answer, but I just think you can't dwell on these things. The next one is coming."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Pittsburgh Steelers