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Browns comeback effort falls short in 21-18 loss to Steelers

Browns fans couldn’t have been more disgusted with the beginning of the 2017 Cleveland Browns season, and that’s saying something superlative. The Pittsburgh Steelers forced a three-and-out and then blocked the punt and recovered it for a touchdown. No, this isn’t a Deadspin “Why Your Team Sucks” highlight reel. It’s simply the way the desperate-not-to-be-the-same-old-Browns started a season-opener in the year 2017. As far as season-openers go, it’s not necessarily Dwayne Rudd tossing his helmet, but holy hell is it a demoralizing way to begin a season. Alas, these games are 60 minutes long, not the three miserable minutes that began the year 2017 for the Cleveland Browns.

DeShone Kizer responded with a cool moment. After amassing an embarrassing minus-seven yards in his first two drives to go along with a seven point deficit, Kizer led his offense down the field for over five minutes and 12 plays. He rifled the ball in. He completed a long pass to Duke Johnson for 14 yards. Isaiah Crowell carried the ball with purpose. The Browns even got a pass interference penalty in their favor with David Njoku taking contact before the ball arrived. After a Crowell run to the goal line, DeShone Kizer bullied his way in behind the Browns’ revamped offensive line to tie the game just before the end of the first quarter.

The rest of the half was eventful only in that the Browns made it uneventful for the Steelers. Pittsburgh pulled off one long drive to take a 14-7 lead with 45 seconds to go in the half, and even that was somewhat lucky. Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown long but seemed to miss him before Joe Schobert tipped a ball behind him into his hands. Those 50 yards were too much for the Browns’ defense to withstand as they surrendered the tie. Before that, however, the Browns defense had forced four straight punts to start the game against Pittsburgh’s offense. One successful offensive drive and a blocked punt had the Browns on the wrong end of a 14-7 halftime deficit.

Things got better for the Steelers in the second half. The Browns cut the deficit by a field goal 14-10, but the Steelers started to show their experience and talent. The Browns’ defense was solid, and they held Le’veon Bell under 20 yards rushing through three quarters. That’s pretty astonishing all by itself, but the scoreboard was still tilted in Pittsburgh’s favor. The offensive execution was markedly better, and the Steelers were able to move the ball and extend their lead to 21-10, which is how the third quarter ended. Based on that score and the lack of ability of the Browns’ offense to make big plays, it seemed highly unlikely that Browns fans would get a miraculous comeback.

The Browns didn’t just wilt, however. Eight plays, 83 yards, a touchdown slant to Corey Coleman on fourth down and goal from the two and the Browns were within five. A two-point conversion and the Browns trailed the Steelers three – 21-18 – with 3:33 on the game clock and two timeouts! The team showed grit, effort, competitive fire and a whole host of other adjectives.

The Steelers were able to do just enough to run out the clock, including an amazing catch by an amazing player, Antonio Brown. From there it was pretty elementary. The Browns stood up for themselves and made it a contest, but the Steelers came out on top 21-18.

For Browns fans, while it’s not what you wanted to see, but it’s kind of what you wanted to see. The Browns defense was much improved. DeShone Kizer played like a rookie, but one who is worth investing time and patience in, as opposed to the many who’ve come before him since 1999. It’s the kind of game that makes you say, “SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!” not “I guess we’ll you next week because the schedule said so.”

Final Notes…

  • It’s likely the combination of Gregg Williams and an influx of talent, but the Cleveland Browns’ defense is much improved so far. They played very well against the run, had a takeaway, and gave the Browns a chance to win. With the game in the balance, they held the Steelers to two offensive touchdowns.
  • DeShone Kizer had a pretty good day for a rookie starting his first game. When you look at the last time a rookie started for the Browns, and Brandon Weeden threw four interceptions and got trapped by the American flag. Kizer had a lot of rookie moments, holding the ball too long to take sacks and staring down first options, and throwing a gross interception, but it didn’t seem to define his performance. Overall he showed promise and ability in the face of one of the fiercest teams in the NFL.
  • The Steelers are an illegal hit machine. There’s little conclusion you can draw other than they coach their guys to hit illegally. William Gay drew a penalty. J.J. Wilcox drew a penalty on the Coleman touchdown. Ryan Shazier drew a penalty for hitting DeShone Kizer in a slide. Three illegal hits in one game added to the list of illegal hits we’ve witnessed just against the Browns over the years to Colt McCoy, Josh Cribbs, and Mohamed Massaquoi makes the case hard to ignore.