Browns sack Steelers
CLEVELAND – There’s nothing Super about the Pittsburgh Steelers anymore.
The defending NFL champions lost their fifth straight and had their playoff hopes sacked by the lowly Cleveland Browns, who ended a 12-game losing streak against their bitter rival by beating the Steelers 13-6 on Thursday night in subzero wind chills.
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times and lost for the first time in 11 career games against the Browns (2-11), who extended Pittsburgh’s longest losing streak in six years and defeated the Steelers (6-7) at home for the first time since 2000.
“A long time coming,” Browns quarterback Brady Quinn said.
Pittsburgh’s postseason chances are in peril – if not over completely. The Steelers are going to need help to make the postseason, a stunning freefall for a team that hit the season’s halfway point at 6-2.
Unexpected losses to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland – three of the NFL’s worst teams with a combined record of 9-28 – have pushed Pittsburgh to the brink.
Chris Jennings, who began the season on Cleveland’s practice squad, scored on a 10-yard run and Phil Dawson kicked a pair of 29-yard field goals for the Browns, who snapped a seven-game losing streak, a 10-game slide at home and beat the Steelers for just the second time in 20 games.
Roethlisberger tried to rally the Steelers, but his fourth-down pass to Santonio Holmes with less than two minutes left was knocked down by linebacker David Bowens.
When Holmes was tackled on a punt return and the final second ticked off the scoreboard’s clock, frozen Browns fans, who were nearly outnumbered by Terrible Towel-waving Pittsburgh fans, danced in the aisles. Several Cleveland players sprinted down field and jumped into the Dawg Pound section to celebrate.
The win was just the second for Cleveland’s embattled first-year coach Eric Mangini, who certainly helped his job security by beating Pittsburgh, something no Browns coach had done since Chris Palmer nine years ago.
Josh Cribbs, Cleveland’s Mr. Everything, rushed for 87 yards out of the wildcat formation, had 104 return yards and caught one pass for 9 yards. Cribbs picked up a big first down on a 14-yard run in the fourth quarter when the Browns were trying to milk the clock.
Still, the Steelers managed to get the ball back with 6:16 left at their own 21. Roethlisberger, who has broken Cleveland’s hearts before, began working his team down field with short passes. But he was sacked at midfield in the final two minutes and had his final pass batted away.
Quinn, making his first career start against Pittsburgh, completed just one pass in the second half and finished 6 of 19 for 90 yards.
Roethlisberger went 18 of 32 for 201 yards. He had trouble throwing in the swirling winds that consistently blew over 20 mph and the Steelers were never able to establish their running game against the Browns’ defense, which came in ranked 32nd overall.
Cleveland’s defense dominated the first half, sacking Roethlisberger five times and pressuring him on nearly every snap.
Jennings’ 10-yard scamper around right end – the first TD scored by a Cleveland running back in more than a year – put the Browns up 13-0 late in the second quarter. With their defense stuffing the Steelers and the temperature dropping, the Browns’ lead seemed insurmountable.
But the Steelers drove 58 yards in 41 seconds and got a 27-yard field goal from Jeff Reed as time expired to close within 13-3 at halftime.
Reed’s second field goal with 8 seconds left in the third brought the Steelers within a touchdown.
But Pittsburgh was unable to put together a scoring drive in the fourth, and now the Steelers find themselves in more trouble than they could have imagined.
This is certainly not what Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin had in mind when he promised his team would “unleash hell” in December.
Cribbs, who has burned Pittsburgh before with three career TD kickoff returns against the Steelers, took back a punt 55 yards to set up Dawson’s first field goal in the first quarter.
Browns safety Hank Poteat’s sack of Roethlisberger backed the Steelers up to the 3-yard line, forcing Daniel Sepulveda to punt from the back of his end zone. He got off a 60-yard punt that Cribbs dropped before picking it up, finding a few blockers and returning down the right sideline to the 8.
The Browns lost yardage on a holding penalty before Dawson drilled his kick through winds that swayed the goal posts.
NOTES: Steelers WR Hines Ward played despite a hamstring injury and caught four passes for 21 yards. … Holmes, the MVP in Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl win over Arizona, surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in four seasons. … Browns DE Robaire Smith injured his hip in the first half but returned. … Jennings previously played for Montreal in the Canadian Football League. … Cleveland’s offensive line went sleeveless in the bone-chilling weather.
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