With just over a minute left in a 20-13 deficit against the Steelers at Heinz Field, Mayfield was looking to create the same magic the Browns had found for the past three weeks, when their offense came alive late in games with big plays — the bulk of which had gone to Landry.
The pass spiraled through the air but missed the outstretched hands of Landry, who turned around only to see the ball fall into the arms of Steelers cornerback Joe Haden.
The interception sealed one of Cleveland’s most painful losses of the season against its AFC North rival. The Browns had plenty of chances to extend their winning streak and take a giant leap in the Wild Card race, but lost opportunities and a failure to capitalize on pivotal sequences prevented Cleveland from escaping its hole.
“We played the tight game we wanted to play,” coach Freddie Kitchens said. “We got to realize, when we’re in the moment, (that we need to) make a difference. I told our guys that all three phases could have done something … to change the outcome of the game.”
While the final result doesn’t suggest it, the Browns made key plays that served as a stepping stone toward stealing momentum from the Steelers, who succeeded despite a lineup that didn’t feature its top quarterback, running back, wide receiver and center.
Cleveland originally built a 10-0 lead behind a quality start from its defense, which limited Pittsburgh to only two scoreless drives in the first 17 minutes and surrounded Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges with pressure in the pocket.
But that lead turned into a deficit shortly into the second half. The snappiness and efficiency Cleveland had last week against Miami — and in the first game against the Steelers two weeks ago — was missing. The defense, however, allowed Hodges to connect on big passing plays that set up easy touchdowns inside the red zone.
Just like that, the Browns were down 20-10 in the fourth quarter after having just offensive drive in the third quarter.
But the key plays came back. None offered more promise than an interception from Terrance Mitchell, who picked off Hodges on the first play after the Browns managed to kick a field goal and close the gap to 20-13.
Mitchell dashed around the Steelers offense for a 28-yard return that put the Browns at the Steelers’ 30 with 7 minutes left. It was a golden opportunity that Cleveland needed to relish, and a touchdown on the following drive would’ve sucked the life out of a raucous Steelers crowd eager to seek revenge after the Browns’ previous win over the Steelers.
The Browns went three-and-out.
Check out photos of the Browns in action against the Steelers
Mayfield took an 8-yard sack on third down that sent the Browns out of field-goal range, and Cleveland failed to capitalize on Mitchell’s clutch turnover with points.
“That was not a good sequence,” Kitchens said. “We’ve got to recognize those game-changing moments.”
The Browns received just one final chance to tie the game with 1:45 left after the defense made a key stop and forced the Steelers to punt for a touchback.
Cleveland could’ve taken momentum if it tied the game. The drive started with plenty of promise. Instead, it ended with an interception.
“We had to stay consistent,” Mayfield said. “You can’t be satisfied. You have to hit the reset button and go back out there to do your job no matter what the score is, no matter the situation.”
Missed opportunities have defined the Browns struggles in a season of high expectations but shortage of winning results. After building a three-game win streak, Cleveland succumbed to the similar struggles that cost them in losses to Tennessee, Los Angeles, Seattle and Denver.
The Browns aren’t out of the playoff race, but they know they can’t afford to waste any more opportunities.
“They made more plays than us down the stretch. That what it comes down to,” Kitchens said. “They got after us up front a little bit, and I think we need to match that intensity and continue moving forward with the same intensity that we started the game with. I think that’s a good learning experience for us today moving forward.”