The Browns entered Sunday afternoon against the Steelers with plenty of reasons to believe their offense could find big plays from all of their offensive stars.
With several players returning from injury and the whole team benefitting from 10 days of rest, Cleveland had all of the energy and star power necessary to win its first divisional game of the season. Their starting quarterback, starting running back, offensive line starters and wide receivers were all suited up and ready, the first time that was possible since Week 1.
But the big plays the Browns expected from their stars weren't easy to find. Cleveland lost, 15-10, and was held to its lowest scoring output in a game since Week 10 of last season with miscues and errors limiting the offense across the entire afternoon.
"It's a frustrating day," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "The bottom line is we didn't make enough plays, and we didn't do enough things for when you play an AFC North divisional opponent."
The Browns weren't able to find anything more than one touchdown from the 306 total yards accumulated from their offense. Two-hundred twenty-five of them came through the air from Mayfield, who returned as the starting quarterback after missing Week 7 with a left shoulder injury. Another 61 of the yards came from RB Nick Chubb, who was playing in his first game since missing the past two with a calf injury. Cleveland's entire offense was held to 96 rushing yards, just the third time this season the Browns didn't eclipse 100 yards in a game.
The big plays certainly were available for the Browns to take, though.
Cleveland was 0-for-2 on fourth down conversions. The first turnover-on-downs happened in the second quarter, when Chubb was stuffed for a 1-yard loss. The second was the Browns' final offensive play, a fourth-and-12 snapped from Pittsburgh's 26 with 1:53 left. That sequence was also hampered by a false-start penalty from WR Rashard Higgins two plays earlier and ended with an incompletion.
"We just didn't stay on the field enough and possess the ball enough to score enough points," Stefanski said. "Credit to them. They took away some plays from us."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Steelers in week eight
The Browns certainly won't be happy, either, with several drops that took away key first-down opportunities and killed their overall momentum.
TE Austin Hooper couldn't corral a pass from Mayfield that likely would've resulted in a touchdown on the first drive. WRs Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins each dropped balls in the second quarter on plays that would've gone for first downs.
"It's on all of us," Mayfield said. "The fact is we just didn't get into a rhythm today. We all have to take ownership."
Cleveland didn't need to have its best offensive day of the season to beat the Steelers.
The defense, for the most part, held strong and kept Pittsburgh out of the end zone for the first 42 minutes of the game. Ben Roethlisberger was limited to only 266 yards and one touchdown. First-round rookie RB Najee Harris totaled 91 yards, but he received a heavy load with 26 carries and was limited to 3.5 yards per attempt. His longest run of the day was 11 yards.
The Browns have held opponents below 20 points for two consecutive weeks. Such a performance usually leads to wins when the offense has most of its top stars, but self-inflicted mistakes prevented the Browns from building any type of lead.
"They held us to 10, so they did a better job than us," DE Myles Garrett said. "It was definitely a winnable game for us, but we didn't do it."
Mayfield said his injured shoulder, which has a completely torn labrum, didn't affect his performance or change anything the Browns hoped to accomplish offensively. There were a few examples to back that up, too, such as a 5-yard run on third-and-4 in the fourth quarter that picked up a first down.
Mayfield took a shot to his shoulder as he ran out of bounds, but quickly proved he was OK — and fired up — by running back on the field and emphatically pointing his arm forward.
"I felt pretty comfortable from the beginning," Mayfield said.
But what happened two plays after his run encapsulated the offense's day.
Mayfield hit Landry with what appeared to be an 11-yard gain and first down near the Steelers' red zone. Landry made the catch, but the ball was pried away from Steelers LB and former Browns defender Joe Schobert.
The Steelers recovered, which quickly ended a promising drive that could've led to a go-ahead touchdown with 6 minutes left. Landry laid on his back after the play in disappointment as others on the Browns offense slowly walked off the field.
"It's something that (Schobert) is known to do," Landry said. "I was trying to fight for a few more yards and get a first down, and he made a great play."
The Browns were out of big-play chances at that point, and now they must settle with a 4-4 record that shows the inconsistency that's hampered both sides of the ball all season.
Despite the loss, Cleveland remains one win behind the first-place Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. The Browns still have nine games left and plenty of time to correct mistakes, but they know the clock is still on to prove they can fix them.
Another opportunity to show it slipped by Sunday.
"We just need to simplify things and execute," Mayfield said. "We have a good enough team. We're just kicking ourselves in the foot right now. We just need to execute."