After four consecutive weeks of heart-pumping wins and gut-wrenching losses, the Cleveland Browns put together four quarters of football in a 31-10 romping of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The win marked only the Browns third over the Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium since the franchise returned in 1999.
Offensively, Cleveland was a well-oiled machine without a flaw. Brian Hoyer completed 8-of-17 for 217 yards and a touchdown. Jordan Cameron posted 93 yards receiving and a touchdown by the middle of the second quarter. Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell are proving to be one of the most effective running back combos in the NFL. The Steelers lacked answers for the pair's combined 153 yards and three touchdowns. In particular it was Crowell who kept rumbling deep into the Pittsburgh secondary, and who may be entering the offensive Rookie of the Year discussion.
Defensively, the performance was without question the most remarkable of the season. The Steelers may have not been completely silenced in terms of yardage, but they ultimately couldn't put points on the scoreboard. In the third quarter, when it looked like the tides might've been turning, the Browns sacked Ben Roethlisberger on back-to-back plays, eventually forcing a punt. On his next possession, a tipped Roethlisberger pass fell into the arms of Buster Skrine for the interception. This is the top 10 defense the city of Cleveland expected all along.
Unlike Week 1 in Pittsburgh, there was no roaring comeback from the road team. The Browns ripped the life support chords off the Steelers and had them buried by the early fourth quarter, when a 1-yard Tate touchdown put Cleveland up 31-3.
It was a vindicating win that you better believe the rest of the 31 teams around the league will take note of.
The biggest goal line stop
On their second drive, the Steelers told the Browns straight up to what their game plan was going to be: run the football. In the 10-play drive, Pittsburgh ran the ball nine times, all the way inside the Browns' 5. But on three straight runs in goal-to-go situations, the Steelers were stuffed by the Cleveland defense and forced to kick a 20-yard field goal.
The biggest momentum shift
Early in the second quarter, the Steelers had another chance to put a touchdown on the board, but misplayed the opportunity again. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton was wide open on would-be third-down conversion inside the red zone, but Roethlisberger's pass came too soon. On the very next play the Steelers botched a makeable 35-yard field goal attempt. Instead of a 14-0 lead, the Steelers only posted three points.
The best quick response
Immediately after the botched field goal in the second quarter, the Browns seized the chance and cashed in. On a beautifully designed misdirection bootleg, Cameron found himself standing wide open alone on the right side of the field. Eventually a Brian Hoyer pass landed in his hands for 42 yards and on the very next play, Isaiah Crowell banged home a five-yard touchdown. The quick response put the Steelers on notice and energized a crowd desperate for something to cheer about.
The best pass
With 9:40 left in the second quarter, Hoyer threw what might've been the best pass of his career. On a simple seam route up the middle, Hoyer lobbed the football only where Cameron could hauled it down, in stride. Cameron jetted towards the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown and it put the Browns up 14-3. The throw made the Pittsburgh safeties play further up the field instead of closer to the line of scrimmage to defend the Browns' rushing attack.
The unsung hero
John Greco. Browns Pro Bowl center Alex Mack was carted off the field after a gruesome lower leg injury in the second quarter. The injury meant it was the first missed offensive snaps since Mack was drafted with the 21st overall pick in 2009 - a stretch of 5,279 plays. Enter Greco, who slid over from right guard to handle the center duties and he didn't miss a beat. Cleveland kept pounding the football and there were no bad-snaps. Greco "Played Like a Brown" by stepping him up when the franchise needed him the most.
The most inconsistent player
Ben Roethlisberger. Who would've thunk it? On two key third-downs in the first half, Roethlisberger threw errant passes – the latter on a deep ball that would've been for a gain of close to 30. The opportunities for big yards were there at times for Roethlisberger. He missed nearly all of them.
The best crowd
The moment Cameron caught that 42-yard pass, the offense helped awake a sleeping giant – The Dawg Pound. That's not to say they weren't loud in the first quarter. But the brown and orange faithful blew the lid off FirstEnergy Stadium for the rest of the game. Defensive players like Donte Whitner and Paul Kruger repeatedly pumped up their arms, encouraging their boisterous fans to be even louder. The energy was undeniable.
Final: Browns 31, Steelers 10