CLEVELAND — A bend-don't-break sort of effort was unable to lift the Browns to their first win.
Instead, Cleveland had trouble slowing the dynamic running back Le'Veon Bell and was unable to jump start its own offense, falling to the Steelers, 24-9, on a blustery Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Trailing by eight points with 3:44 to play, the Browns' comeback hopes were dashed when Pittsburgh scored on a strip-sack of Josh McCown, who stepped in for injured rookie quarterback Cody Kessler.
Kessler, who finished with 128 yards and an interception, took several big hits and left late with a possible concussion. He did not return.
McCown, meanwhile, passed for 110 yards and a 14-yard touchdown to tight end Gary Barnidge that cut the lead to 17-9 in the fourth quarter.
It was ultimately too little too late against the Steelers, who used a bruising and methodical game plan to hand the Browns their 11th loss this season.
And while Cleveland's defense buckled down — it held Pittsburgh to three field goals, two punts and two late three-and-outs — Bell's efforts proved to be too much to overcome. The dual-threat player totaled 201 yards — including 135 in the first half — on 36 touches and paced a Pittsburgh offense that ate up the clock.
Its defense, which entered Sunday ranked last in sacks, registered dropped the Browns' quarterbacks seven times in an effort that kept their offense out of rhythm.
The Browns, who spoke of the need to close out games — and the season — the right way, drove home that emphasis this past week by painting the word FINISH and 6 5 4 3 2 1 in the end zone of their practice field.
With five opportunities now left, they'll have the chance to make good on that approach when they host the Giants next weekend.
The Browns take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11.