CLEVELAND — The stage was set. The comeback was on.
But the new-and-improved Browns — despite a furious charge, six takeaways and plenty of pluck — couldn’t find a way to win in Sunday’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Instead, a thrilling, rain-soaked afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium ended in a 21-21 tie after Cleveland overcame a brutally slow start and double-digit deficit. If there’s a silver lining to be had in all that, the Browns want no part of it. This, they made clear, wasn’t the objective.
“It’s a sour feeling,” starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. “Really not sure what it feels like.”
“Tying in the NFL is really weird,” left guard Joel Bitonio added. “I never even thought I'd be a part of it.”
“It’s disappointment. Real disappointment,” wide receiver Josh Gordon said. “That’s a tough way to end the game.”
Cleveland’s revamped roster — which added Taylor and 31 new players over the offseason — made clear they intended to take down a divisional rival playing without one of its best players. And the Browns — despite early struggles and missed opportunities — came oh-so-close to doing just that.
In a back-and-forth affair, it looked as if the Browns might finally win their first game since 2016 when they strip-sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the 38-yard line with 1:17 to play in overtime. That hope dissipated when second-year kicker Zane Gonzalez had a 43-yard field goal blocked with 13 seconds remaining in the extra period.
It was a dispiriting end to a spirited game in which the Browns went toe-to-toe with what's widely believed to be one of the league’s best teams.
Trust, though, that there were plenty of bright spots to be had: Cleveland forced six turnovers after finishing with just 13 a year ago; Myles Garrett looked every bit like the dominant, game-changing defender Cleveland hoped he’d be when it selected him with the first overall pick in 2017; rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, making his regular-season debut, made two interceptions and had three pass breakups while guarding All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown most of the day; starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor helped pace a 14-point, fourth-quarter comeback that sent those in attendance into a frenzy.
Cleveland acknowledged those positive dynamics while also making sure to shrug them off. These new Browns — armed with talent on both sides of the ball — are a confident bunch who gave fans something to be excited about after a dismal winless season and 1-31 mark over two years.
A tie, they made clear, is simply not good enough.
“Nobody wants to do that with as much work as everyone puts in with the changes that have been made here,” Gordon said.
“It’s better than a loss, sure, but we came in here ready to win. Anything less is not good enough.”