2020 Steelers Season Recall: Lack of early offense results in Steelers loss to Browns

Steel City Underground presents our 2020 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.

In Week 17 of the 2020 NFL regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were still stung by the 27-17 embarrassing loss on Monday Night Football to the Cincinnati Bengals, who’d only won two games all season, and had to face a Cleveland Browns team whose fans were ready to crown them as Super Bowl champions.

Cleveland entered the game with an 11-5 record, earning themselves a shot at the same win-loss record as their AFC North rivals in Pittsburgh.

Every single offensive series in the opening quarter for Pittsburgh ended in a Jordan Berry punt as both Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs took starting snaps at quarterback.

While the Steelers tried to find a rhythm on offense, the Browns had just one successful offensive drive in the opening quarter when Baker Mayfield utilized the rushing game heavily via Nick Chubb, who scored the first touchdown in the game on a 47-yard run. With the score 7-0 in favor of Cleveland, everyone was a little antsy that the Steelers defense would once again be asked to stay on the field way too long in order to bail out the offense.

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The second quarter was miserable for both teams. Matthew Wright was able to score two field goals to the one that Cody Parkey was able to hit. At the half, the score was 10-6.

The third quarter didn’t appear as if it would be any more impressive as fans waited to see if one team would start to pull away from the other. The Browns received the ball first and Baker Mayfield was not sharp in his passing and was sacked for a loss of seven yards and then Joel Bitonio forced a punt due to a false start penalty.

Rudolph finally got a big play in the same quarter by hitting Chase Claypool deep for a 41-yard gain. The Steelers then brought Dobbs in, again, on a semi-trick play that resulted in a short incomplete pass. Rudolph missed Diontae Johnson deep and was able to complete a short pass over the middle to James Conner that set up a 46-yard field goal by Wright that was good.

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The Browns were able to orchestrate two touchdown drives in the quarter thanks, in large part, to a poor throw (short) that was meant for JuJu Smith-Schuster and was intercepted by M.J. Stewart, Jr. who returned the ball 30 yards on the play. Just three plays later Jarvis Landry was able to scoot around the end to put Cleveland on top, 24-9.

In the final quarter of the game, the Steelers kept things interesting by mounting something of a comeback.

Rudolph, who worked out of the shotgun the entire game, was able to find tight end Vance McDonald open on the first play from scrimmage for a 14-yard gain. Following two rushing plays from James Conner, Rudolph started targeting Claypool with one incompletion short, a short pass over the middle for ten yards, and then the big play following three incompletions for a 28-yard touchdown. It was an improbable catch that got everyone fired up.

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On the Browns’ very next offensive drive, Stephon Tuitt gave Pittsburgh a real shot at tying the game by sacking Mayfield for a loss of four yards on third-and-three at the Steelers’ 31-yard line. Cleveland was forced to turn the ball over on downs when Mayfield threw an incomplete pass to Rashard Higgins.

With just 3:37 left on the game clock, Rudolph orchestrated a seven-play drive that was highlighted by a deep pass down the left side of the field to Johnson for 47 yards. A two-yard pass to Smith-Schuster got the Steelers to a two-point conversion try called in by head coach Mike Tomlin. From the two-yard line, Rudolph tried to thread a pass to Claypool that fell incomplete and gave the Browns the 24-22 win.

Chris Wormley, Alex Highsmith, Jay Elliott, and Tuitt all recorded sacks in the game.

The Steelers would take the loss with the knowledge that it had been close enough to give them a good idea of what playing the Browns would be like in the Wild Card round.

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