Steelers

Game report: Steelers can’t hold onto ball, lead

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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked by Cleveland rookie linebacker Genard Avery (55) in overtime of their game Sunday. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

CLEVELAND -- Forget being 60-minute men. The Steelers and Browns were having such a good time running around on the rain-soaked turf at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday, they decided to play 70.

The result?

Well, it was something the Steelers were unhappy with, but the hapless Browns will take as a step in the right direction.

Bolstered by two of the Steelers' six turnovers, the Browns stormed back -- no pun intended -- from a 21-7 deficit in the final 7:32 of the fourth quarter before both teams missed field goals in overtime in what ended as a 21-21 tie in the opening game of the 2018 regular season.

Mike Tomlin and the Steelers (0-0-1) obviously were not happy with the result.

"We have to play better," Tomlin said. "We have to play better to ensure victory. That's what we talked about in there -- that's what I told the group. If you turn the ball over the way we did and don't get turnovers ... you don't have a very good chance to win."

The Steelers didn't win. But they also didn't lose.

That was of no solace to anyone.

"Hell yeah, it feels like a loss," said Cameron Heyward. "I'm sorry for using that kind of language, but if we settle for those, we're going to be an awfully (ticked) off bunch. We didn't get the job done."

The tie left the Steelers with a bad taste in their collective mouths as they blew a lead by failing to keep Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett in check, as they had previously.

Garrett, the top pick in last year's draft, forced a fumble by James Conner with 7:44 remaining in a 21-7 game that was scooped up by Jabrill Peppers and returned to the Pittsburgh 1, where Ben Roethlisberger made a touchdown-saving tackle. That set up a 1-yard TD run by Carlos Hyde.

"It's football, it's a part of the game," Conner said of the fumble, his first in the league. "Can't let it happen again."

Garrett then had a strip-sack of Roethlisberger on the next series for another Pittsburgh turnover. The Browns didn't score on that possession, but it allowed them to pin the Steelers inside the 5 on their next possession. And with Garrett running amok, the Steelers played things conservatively, getting just one first down before punting back to the Browns again.

It took Tyrod Taylor just two throws to find Josh Gordon in the end zone for a score over Cameron Sutton, who had good coverage but was outjumped by the 6-foot-4 receiver to tie the game at 21-21 with 1:58 remaining. Taylor threw for just 197 yards, completing 15 of 40 passes, but had 77 yards rushing, including a 20-yard TD run.

"That's the frustrating part," said Antonio Brown. "When you're on top the whole game and you get into the fourth quarter and things don't go our way. We didn't play the situation to make things go our way. We have to get better from it."

Even with that, the Steelers had a chance to win it in overtime after stopping the Browns (0-0-1) on three downs twice in the extra period. A poor punt to the Pittsburgh 45 gave the Steelers excellent field position, and Roethlisberger and Brown connected on a 12-yard gain before Roethlisberger threw to Jesse James for another 10 yards. Back-to-back runs by Conner put the ball at the Cleveland 28 with 1:54 remaining before the Steelers gave it to him again on third-and-9. He picked up six yards to the Cleveland 23.

The Steelers trotted Pro Bowl kicker Chris Boswell onto the field for a 42-yard field goal in the driving rain, but he pushed it wide left.

 "I have all the confidence in the world in him," Roethlisberger said of Boswell, who had four game-winning kicks in the closing minutes of a game in 2017. "The next time we get in that situation, I'll have all of the confidence in him again."

The Browns again went three-and-out on their next possession, burning only 14 seconds off the clock before punting back to the Steelers at their own 26 with 1:17 remaining.

Roethlisberger completed a 12-yard pass to Brown -- who had nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown -- on first down but threw incomplete on his next pass. Then, he was sacked by rookie Genard Avery and fumbled the ball forward to linebacker Joe Schobert. Schobert returned the ball to the Pittsburgh 12 but Garrett was penalized 10 yards for an illegal block, moving it back to the 24.

The Browns ran Hyde into the line once for a 1-yard loss, then they let the clock tick down to 13 seconds before spiking it.

But Zach Gonzalez' field goal attempt was partially blocked by T.J. Watt, who had four of the Steelers' seven sacks, preserving the tie.

That didn't make Roethlisberger, who threw for 335 yards and a touchdown — but also had three interceptions and two lost fumbles — feel any better.

"When you don't win, it feels like a loss," Roethlisberger said.

THE ESSENTIALS

Boxscore
Play-by-play
Video highlights
NFL scoreboard
NFL standings

THE INJURY UPDATE

Joe Haden, cornerback, left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. No further update was issued after the game.

THE GAME BALLS

My top three performers:

1. T.J. Watt
Steelers outside linebacker

After sitting out the entire preseason with a hamstring injury, Watt recorded 11 tackles, four sacks, three hurries and also partially blocked what would have been a game-winning kick in overtime for the Browns.

2. Myles Garrett
Browns defensive end

The first-overall pick in last year's draft impacted this game greatly, finishing with six tackles, two sacks, one pass defended and two forced fumbles, both of which came in the final 7:44 and changed the game.

3. James Conner
Steelers running back

Subbing for Le'Veon Bell, Conner had 135 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns while also catching five passes for 57 yards. He did have a costly fumble at the hands of Garrett.

THE GOOD

The defense allowed one possession of more than 55 yards in the game, that being an 86-yard touchdown drive to open the third quarter on which the Browns had 66 yards rushing on 10 attempts and another 20 yards in penalties.

Other than that, the Browns didn't have another possession that resulted in more than 55 yards or seven plays being run. Their other two scores came off turnovers that set up short fields, including one that began at the Pittsburgh 1.

This was despite the fact the Steelers were mixing and matching quite a bit in the secondary, even from series to series. The one time they did give up a deep pass, it was a 38-yarder to Rashard Higgins with Sutton in the game replacing the injured Haden.

"I don't remember any miscommunications out there," said cornerback Artie Burns. "We gave up the one big play, but overall, I thought we were all on the same page."

THE BAD

Penalties and turnovers were a major issue, especially with the offense turning it over six times.

The Steelers were penalized 12 times for 116 yards. Cleveland, not to be outdone, had 11 penalties for 87 yards.

More importantly, nine of the Steelers' penalties -- and 86 of the yards -- came in the second half and overtime, while the Browns were penalized just four times over the game's final 40 minutes.

"That's something we have to clean up," Heyward admitted. "We can make those kind of mistakes."

The Browns thought the Steelers should have been called for at least one more penalty. Cleveland felt the Steelers were offside on Watt's blocked field goal.

"I felt like somebody was offside over there on the other side," said Browns coach Hue Jackson. "Obviously, they did not call it."

The officials were apparently too busy calling everything else.

THE PLAY

Conner's first NFL touchdown was a thing of beauty, with the running back going into the end zone untouched on this play to break a scoreless tie.

Apparently, though, the celebration afterward was deemed excessive by some people, who thought the Steelers were over the top in their jubilation, particularly the offensive line, which had been critical of Le'Veon Bell's holdout.

Former NFL offensive lineman and Sirius host Geoff Schwartz called them out over it.

"I walked in untouched," Conner said. "I normally don't do that unless the line is making a hole for me. As soon as I got in, I turned around and looked at those guys who made it possible."

Center Maurkice Pouncey said they were just happy for Conner's first career touchdown.

"Twitter's fun," Pouncey told me. "Let them have their fun.

"He was excited. It was his first NFL touchdown. Who wouldn't be excited?"

THE CALL

Penalties and turnovers were a major issue, especially with the offense turning it over six times.

The defense forced just one, though they had a Sean Davis interception in the second quarter negated by a defensive holding penalty on rookie Terrell Edmunds.

Davis also just missed two other turnovers, jumping a pass over the middle intended for tight end David Njoku late in overtime that he dropped, while also recovering a punt in the fourth quarter that appeared to hit a Browns player's facemask.

It happened with 8:52 remaining in the game and the Steelers leading 21-7. A Cleveland turnover would have, for all purposes, ended the game.

The Steelers challenged that play, which would have given them the ball at midfield, only to have the initial ruling that the ball hadn't touched a Cleveland player upheld.

"I saw it hit his facemask," Davis told me. "I couldn't believe they didn't overturn that."

THE OTHER SIDE

While the Steelers were obviously upset with a tie, Cleveland's players were just happy not to have another loss placed in the column. When you've gone 1-31 in the previous two seasons, you'll look at things that way.

"We moved the ball well," said longtime guard Joel Bitonio. "But there are so many things we can improve on. There was definitely a confidence of, 'Hey, we can play with these guys.'"

Hue Jackson was happy to see his team come back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

"I think the football team has grit," Jackson said. "They are tough minded. They fought through it."

THE SCHEDULE

Tomlin will recap this game again on Tuesday and look forward to next Sunday's home opener against Kansas City at Heinz Field.

THE COVERAGE

Visit our Steelers team page for everything from this game.

MATT SUNDAY GALLERY

Steelers at Browns, Cleveland, Sept. 9, 2018. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

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