CLEVELAND —It was too little too late for the Browns in their season opener.
Cleveland watched a last-minute rally come up short Sunday, falling to the Steelers, 21-18 at First Energy Stadium. [
Trailing late in the fourth quarter, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Corey Coleman to cut the deficit to three points with under four minutes to play.
On the next and last series of the game, however, Pittsburgh All Pro receiver Antonio Brown caught a 38-yard pass on the following series to seal the win.
Following the Browns' first perfect preseason in 31 years, head coach Hue Jackson stressed the next four months would pose a more difficult test for the young Browns.
He was right. While Cleveland's re-energized defense — which gave up just one touchdown in four exhibition games — the Steelers to 290 total yards, it was ultimately unable to keep pace with a stable of playmakers, including Brown, who caught 11 passes for 182 yards.
Kizer, who became the team's first rookie quarterback to start a season since 2012, passed for 222 yards, a touchdown and an interception in his debut. He added 17 yards on the ground, including a 1-yard keeper that tied the game in the first quarter.
With rookie defensive end and No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Myles Garrett out indefinitely, Cleveland's pass rush struggled to pressure the big-bodied Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, recording a sack and one hurry. Garrett, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Wednesday's practice, is expected to play a significant role this fall.
The Browns had far better success in the run game, holding Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell to 32 yards on 10 carries. While there were certainly bright spots like this Sunday, the game opened with an ominous first series after Steelers linebacker Tyler Matakevich blocked Britton Colquitt's punt and Anthony Chickillo recovered it in the end zone.
But the Browns responded with a 12-play drive capped by Kizer's 1-yard keeper to tie the game 7-7 early in the first quarter.
Just before halftime, a turning point came when Brown caught a tipped pass and turned it into a 50-yard reception. The Steelers scored five plays later and held onto a lead they would not surrender.
Cleveland travels to Baltimore next Sunday for their second game in as many weeks against an AFC North rival.
The Browns play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2017 season opener.