CLEVELAND — The new-and-improved Browns came this close to winning their first game since December 2016.
Instead, Cleveland and the Pittsburgh Steelers finished in a 21-21 tie in Sunday’s season opener, a rain-soaked, heart-stopping affair in which the Browns could not capitalize down the stretch.
Kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 43-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the extra period after linebacker Joe Schobert intercepted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Pittsburgh’s 38-yard line.
It was a missed opportunity for a Browns team that overcame a painfully slow start and double-digit deficit.
The Browns, who haven’t won a opener since 2004, are still searching for their first win since Dec. 24, 2016.
Key moment: After trailing the majority of the game, the Browns capped a spirited rally when starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor tossed a 12-yard touchdown to Gordon, sending Cleveland's sideline and fans into a frenzy and the contest into overtime.
Photos: Browns host Steelers in home opener
The Cleveland Browns play the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium in Week 1.
Player(s) of the game: Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward. Garrett registered two sacks, including a pivotal strip-sack of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter, and a forced fumble. Ward, the rookie cornerback from Ohio State, meanwhile intercepted Roethlisberger twice in his regular-season debut. The pair accounted for four of Cleveland’s five takeaways.
Stat of the game: 6 — The Browns forced six turnovers after a preseason in which their defense looked, at least on paper, like it might be one of the league’s top units.
What does it mean? Even in defeat, the Browns showed grit after Sunday’s game, briefly, began to look like more of the same. They fought out of a 21-7 hole to force overtime; the offense, after a brutal start, came alive in the fourth quarter; the defense took the ball away in crucial moments. To be clear, Cleveland’s run defense surrendered 132 yards and two touchdowns to second-year running back James Conner, who replaced the absent All Pro back Le’Veon Bell, and the offense sputtered for the better part of three quarters.
But after a dismal 0-16 season in 2017, the Browns gave their fans something to be excited about for the first time in a really long time. New faces in Taylor, Ward, Carlos Hyde, Jarvis Landry and familiar ones like Garrett and Josh Gordon found ways to contribute.
Who’s next? Cleveland travels to New Orleans for a date for the Saints next Sunday.