2020 Steelers Season Recall: ‘Wild Card’ loss to Cleveland ends memorable season for Pittsburgh

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

This week, we finalize our 2020 Steelers Season Recall series with the 37-48 loss in the Wild Card round to the Cleveland Browns. Pittsburgh, who’d jumped out to a franchise-record 11-0 saw things begin to slump and by the time they met Cleveland in the final regular-season game, the writing was on the wall that their AFC North rivals weren’t going to be pushovers in that franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1995. The Browns took advantage of mistakes made by the Steelers to earn their first playoff victory in more than a quarter-century and the Steelers watched a season that was memorable and looked promising for a real push for a Super Bowl bid end in disappointing fashion.

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From the first offensive play from scrimmage after receiving the opening kickoff, the Steelers were plagued by unfortunate situations. Veteran center Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball past Ben Roethlisberger and Karl Joseph of the Browns was able to fall on it for a touchdown that gave Cleveland a touchdown near-immediately. Throughout most of the first half of the game, the Steelers receivers and Roethlisberger had miscues that resulted in three interceptions; the Browns grabbed two errant throws and turned the turnovers into points on the scoreboard.

“I don’t have any magical answers. We just didn’t put it together. Tonight, the glaring issue is we turned the ball over.” – Ben Roethlisberger

The Steelers weren’t able to get the train back on its tracks until they were already behind by a score of 28-0.

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A one-yard touchdown run from James Conner with around 1:44 left on the clock before halftime was immediately followed by a Baker Mayfield orchestrated 64-yard drive that was capped off with a seven-yard reception for a touchdown with 0:34 seconds remaining. After that, Chris Boswell put the ball through the uprights for a field goal to give the Steelers 10 points to the Browns’ 35 at the midway break.

In the third quarter, Pittsburgh found to try to get back into the game and, by the end of the third quarter, had gotten within 12 points of tieing things up (23-35). Fielding the third-best defense in the NFL, Pittsburgh – who’d let the NFL in sacks – still struggled to completely throw Mayfield off his game and limit the number of rushing plays that gave Cleveland big chunk plays.

On the first play of the final quarter of the game, facing fourth-and-1 at their own 46-yard line, head coach Mike Tomlin called for a punt that had Steelers Nation calling for his job across social media.

“I wanted to pin (Cleveland) down and maybe provide a short field for their offense. I just wanted to keep the momentum going in terms of field positioning.” – Mike Tomlin

Unfortunately, the ball bounced into the end zone for a touchback, and once again the Steelers defense, gassed due to having to be on the field for the majority of the game, suffered from the playcalling, and couldn’t keep the Browns from marching 80 yards down the field in just six plays. Nick Chubb took a screen pass from Mayfield and turned it into a 40-yard play that completely shut down any momentum the Steelers may have had left.

Roethlisberger ended the game with 501 yards of passing by completing 46-of-68 tosses, four touchdowns, and four interceptions. He wasn’t sacked in the game, however. Behind him, Conner led all Steelers in rushing yards with just 37 yards and one touchdown.

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JuJu Smith-Schuster led all receivers with 157 yards on 13 receptions (one touchdown). Diontae Johnson recorded 117 yards on 11 catches and Chase Claypool added 59 yards (and two touchdowns) on just five receptions. Tight end Eric Ebron had the only other touchdown reception for Pittsburgh in the game.

The Steelers’ defense was shut out in the sack department and allowed the Browns offense to post 125 rushing yards and 263 receiving yards.

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