CLEVELAND — The eighth Steelers turnover had been forced and recovered with all zeros on the clock. Any chance of another cruel ending for the Browns and their fans disappeared when linebacker Craig Robertson jumped on the last loose ball.
The players celebrated on the greenish-brown Cleveland Browns Stadium turf, while many of the stunned Steelers stormed off in a huff, refusing to shake hands with their conquerors. The same was true of the fans wearing black and yellow in the packed stands.
Owner Jimmy Haslam rejoiced in the win over his former team and handed out congratulations in the locker room. Coach Pat Shurmur soaked in his first victory in the rivalry in three attempts.
The Browns beat the Steelers 20-14 on Sunday. That’s what matters.
Yes, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with his 14-1 record against the Browns, didn’t play.
Yes, the Steelers committed a staggering eight turnovers, the most in the NFL since 2001.
Yes, the Steelers were down to third-string quarterback Charlie Batch and are dealing with injuries on the offensive line and at receiver.
The Browns (3-8) still won. And that’s more than enough in a rivalry that’s been as lopsided as a seesaw with Phil Taylor on one end and Phil Dawson on the other.
“I said to the rookies, ‘You’re all 1-0 against Pittsburgh,’” Shurmur said.
No one in Cleveland has been able to say that for a long time. The Steelers (6-5) had won four straight against the Browns and 16 of 17. The Browns are 5-23 since returning in 1999.
But Haslam, quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Trent Richardson and 15 other rookies know nothing but success on this side of the rivalry.
“It’s huge,” said Haslam, surrounded by cameras and microphones in the middle of the locker room. “It’s a home game. It wasn’t pretty, but we won. That’s all that matters, right?”
The team that couldn’t finish finally did — with Weeden in the locker room after sustaining a concussion with 5:20 left. He was hit as he threw on third down and as he fell, the side of his helmet knocked into left tackle Joe Thomas’ leg.
Thomas said Weeden (17-for-26 for 158 yards, touchdown, interception, 78.7 rating) appeared groggy after the play, Richardson said the trainers had to hide his helmet so he wouldn’t try to return and Shurmur said he was responsive after the game. Colt McCoy played the last two series and handed off six times in his first action since Steelers linebacker James Harrison knocked him out with a concussion last season, altering his career path.
“We had a good conversation,” Shurmur said of Weeden after the game. “Some guys come back quickly, some guys don’t, so we’ll just have to see where that’s at.”
The Browns had lost five games by seven points or fewer, including last week in overtime in Dallas when they couldn’t hold a three-point lead in the final minute of regulation. But this defense on this day wasn’t going to let that happen.
The offense got a touchdown in the second and third quarters — 17 of the points came after turnovers — and Taylor, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, cornerback Joe Haden and Co. took care of the rest.
“We’ve always had a lot of tight games over the years, but we were never able to finish,” receiver/special teamer Joshua Cribbs said. “But our defense wasn’t having it this game.
“They were like, ‘Well, you need another turnover? Here you go. Y’all didn’t score? OK, we’re going to turn it over again.’ They answered the call.”
A 15-yard Richardson run off left guard gave the Browns a 20-14 lead with 5:19 left in the third quarter. He followed fullback Alex Smith and got a great block from right guard Shawn Lauvao on Harrison.
“Alex Smith pulled around and when he hit the dude dead in his mouth I knew it was going to be a touchdown,” said Richardson, who carried 29 times for 85 yards and a 2.9 average.
“We knew we needed to get in the (end) zone at least a couple times and we felt like scoring against that team with the struggles they were having on offense would be big,” Smith said.
It was huge. The Steelers had six possessions after Richardson’s touchdown and they ended with punt, interception, punt, interception, fumble, fumble.
Haden, who returned after missing last week with a strained oblique, got the last interception when he had speedster Mike Wallace blanketed and outjumped him. Jackson stripped running back Chris Rainey on the next Pittsburgh possession, with Taylor recovering.
Reggie Hodges pinned the Steelers on the 3-yard line with 20 seconds left, and their desperation laterals stopped when safety T.J. Ward forced his second fumble and Robertson recovered.
Batch, a 37-year-old taking his first snaps of the season, was intercepted by cornerback Sheldon Brown, defensive tackle Billy Winn and Haden. Batch went 20-for-34 for 199 yards and a 38.7 rating.
The Steelers used four running backs, and they all lost a fumble. Coach Mike Tomlin couldn’t yank them fast enough, but eventually settled on Rainey, the smallest and quickest of the bunch. The Steelers rushed for 49 yards and a 2.5 average.
“We came into the game wanting to be a physical presence,” Ward said. “We wanted to be more physical than them from the first snap and I think we came out and did that.”
Without Roethlisberger, the game figured to be one where every point was precious. Then Weeden’s pass for Greg Little was tipped at the line and returned 53 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Lawrence Timmons 71 seconds into the game. So many previous debacles against the Steelers had gone bad in a hurry just like this. But the young Browns recovered.
Weeden led a short field-goal drive following a fumble recovery in the first quarter and a 10-yard touchdown drive — 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Jordan Cameron — following a fumble recovery in the second.
“We’ve had a lot of bad stuff in the beginning of games,” veteran tight end Benjamin Watson said. “We’re no stranger to being down, we’re no stranger to unlucky things happening. It’s a testimony to the resilience of this team to be able to fight back in that situation.”
They fought for 60 minutes and eight turnovers and have the win to prove it.
“Our fans deserve that win, they deserve the bragging rights and we kicked their tails,” Cribbs said. “We deserved that win right there and we got it.”
Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.