Two days after coach Freddie Kitchens wore his ‘Pittsburgh Started it’ t-shirt out in public, the Steelers pretty much finished the Browns’ season.
In one of the most gratifying interceptions of his career, former Browns cornerback Joe Haden picked off Baker Mayfield on a pass intended for Jarvis Landry with 1:06 remaining to preserve the Steelers’ 20-13 victory.
The Browns, who had their three-game winning streak snapped, jumped out to a 10-0 lead on the Steelers but then allowed Pittsburgh to score 20 unanswered points en route to a monumental victory over the Browns in the biggest game of the season to date for both clubs.
The Browns, fighting for their playoff lives, dropped to 5-7 on the season and will likely have to win out for a chance to make the playoffs in this season of great expectations. That would include a victory over the steamrolling Ravens, who beat the 49ers on Sunday to improve to 10-2.
The Steelers, starting their fourth-string quarterback in Devlin “Duck” Hodges, improved to 7-5 and realistically kept their playoff hopes alive.
By the end of the game, Steelers fans were quacking for Hodges, who won his second game of the season to keep the Steelers in the hunt. The Steelers were also without starting receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) and running back James Conner (shoulder).
It marked the 16th straight loss for the Browns in Pittsburgh, and prevented them from sweeping Pittsburgh for the first time since 1988.
It was a rematch of the Browns 21-7 victory Nov. 14 in which Myles Garrett struck Mason Rudolph over the head with the QB’s helmet to earn an indefinite suspension.
Rudolph’s replacement, Hodges, came up big, completing 14-of-21 attempts for 212 yards with one TD and one INT for a 95.7 rating. James Washington caught four passes for 111 yards and a TD.
Mayfield, who injured his hand in the first half, completed 18-of-32 attempts for 196 yards with one TD and one INT for a 71.9 rating. He was sacked five times by a relentless Steelers defense.
Mayfield ran off the field with seven seconds left in the first half clutching his right throwing hand.
He hit the hand on Bud Dupree’s facemask and grabbed it afterwards. He went to the locker room presumably for X-rays as Garrett Gilbert replaced him with the score tied 10-10.
It happened on a deep incompletion to Odell Beckham Jr. at the Steelers 5 with seconds remaining in the half.
Beckham also went into the locker room early with an apparent injury but came back out in the second half and seemed fine.
Mayfield came back out in the second half with the hand wrapped and covered with a glove.
The Browns narrowed the gap to 20-13 on a 34-yard field goal with 7:30 left in the game after getting three chunk plays to start the drive and quickly move to the Steelers 14. But Demetrius Harris dropped the ball in the back of the end zone on a post route, and Mayfield was sacked on third down.
The Browns had a prime opportunity to tie the game after Terrance Mitchell picked off Hodge with 7:18 remaining to start the Browns at the Steelers 30. But the Browns netted minus-8 yards on the ensuing drive, with an incomplete deep ball to Jarvis Landry, a no gain by Kareem Hunt and then Mayfield was sacked again on third down. Austin Seibert lined up for a 56 yard field goal attempt but punted instead, and Stephen Carlson downed the ball at the 1.
On the Browns opening drive of the second half, Mayfield was strip-sacked by Bud Dupree and Cam Heyward recovered. The Steelers converted the turnover into a 29-yard field goal that made it 20-10 with 13:48 left in the game. Hodge fumbled on the third down, but Joe Schobert recovered it out of bounds.
First half highlights
The teams were tied 10-10 at the half after the Browns jumped out to a 10-0 lead but then allowed the Steelers climb back in the game in the final three minutes of the half and tie it on a 30-yard touchdown pass to James Washington with 1:00 left before the break. Washington made the sensational catch just inside the end zone despite T.J. Carrie grabbing at his neck and being interfered with by T.J. Car
The TD was set up by a 28-yard strike by Hodges to receiver Tevin Jones.
The Steelers closed to 10-3 on a 39-yard field goal by Chris Boswell with 2after using the Wildcat formation twice on the drive. Hodges also hit Washington with a 31-yard pass on the drive.
The Browns opened the scoring 3-0 on a 31-yard field goal by Austin Seibert on their opening drive.
Key play on the drive was an acrobatic 15-yard sideline catch by Jarvis Landry that was first ruled incomplete and then reversed upon Freddie Kitchens’ challenge.
Kitchens has now won two of his seven challenges.
Landry did an amazing job of controlling his body and keeping his toes inbounds on the sideline route.
But the Browns failed to punch it in despite facing a first and goal at the Steelers 6.
The Browns made it 10-0 on the 15-yard TD catch by Hunt with 7:40 left in the half, but
The Browns host the Bengals (1-11) at 1 p.m. next Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. Cincinnati won for the first time this season with a 22-6 win over the New York Jets.