What we learned from Browns' win over Steelers

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  • By Grant Gordon NFL.com
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The Cleveland Browns (4-6) kept their playoff hopes alive in Thursday night's 21-7 victory over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5). Here's what we learned from the tense affair:

1. As the lights dimmed upon a forgettable Thursday night mired by a horrendous final seconds, it was the awful image of Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett swinging a helmet at Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph that stood as the lasting image on an evening that unfortunately won't soon be forgotten. In the preceding 59 minutes and 52 seconds, however, a game played out.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield emerged having totaled three touchdowns. However, the evening belonged to a dominant effort from a Browns defense that overwhelmed an inept Steelers offense. It all added up to the Browns' first victory over the Steelers since 2014 as Cleveland prevailed, 21-7. Led by a sterling effort from the quiet man Joe Schobert (team-high 10 tackles, two interceptions, one sack), the Browns tallied four takeaways, held the Steelers to 236 yards and owned the night for Cleveland. The victory stopped a four-game winning streak for Pittsburgh and ended an eight-game winless drought in the one-sided rivalry. Cleveland feasted upon a Steelers offense that was already manned by second-stringer Rudolph and eventually lost its best receiver and runner. Greedy Williams, Juston Burris and Morgan Burnett, who left with an Achilles injury, were among the many Browns defenders who stifled the Steelers from start to ugly end. Make no mistake, it was an ugly night and the Browns' season-long question marks remain quandaries to be answered, but fleeting hope still exists that this isn't a completely lost season. And that's a result of the defense.

2. Since he was taken with the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Garrett has very much been lauded for not just his play but his character. In the instant shock of a helmet-wielding attack upon Rudolph, that all changed. For all intents and purposes, the game was over and the play was over with eight seconds remaining in the game. Rudolph was taken down by Garrett, who seemingly refused to get off of Rudolph. Rudolph pulled at Garrett's helmet and the defender retaliated by pulling off the quarterback's helmet. As Garrett was being restrained, Rudolph lunged for his helmet and Garrett swung full force with the helmet and connected atop Rudolph's exposed head. Anarchy ensued thereafter with Garrett and teammate Larry Ogunjobi (who blindsided Rudolph in the scrum that followed) disqualified along with Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. Though the Browns' play certainly wasn't stellar throughout, this game was on course to be remembered as a huge Cleveland win. But now, as the aftermath will continue for days to come, it's arduous to believe this will be anything but a loss for the franchise going forward. And will be remembered as a dark night for all involved.

3. Just when it appeared Odell Beckham had his long-awaited second touchdown grab of his first Browns season, it was called back. And perhaps better for the Browns, they were able to start Thursday night with a goal-line touchdown as Baker Mayfield scored on a QB sneak thanks in large part to a mighty shove from Nick Chubb. It gave the Browns a 7-0 lead on their first drive and an advantage they would never relinquish. Just a week prior, the Browns infamously had eight plays from the Bills 2-yard line or closer and came away with nothing but disappointment. This time around, Mayfield had the one-yard sneak and sealed the win with a four-yard score on a ridiculously acrobatic catch from Stephen Carlson -- the first of the rookie's career. Mayfield flexed a phenomenal arm on some throws and looked woeful on others. He completed 17-of-32 passes for 193 yards and did enough for the Browns to win again. For now, good enough is good enough.

4. Chubb began the game with a big push to get Mayfield in the end zone and he concluded it as the first Brown to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing since Peyton Hillis in 2010. Chubb is also the first runner this year to hurdle the barrier. A season ago, he came an excruciating four yards shy. Through all the tribulations of the Browns' current season, Chubb has kept marching forward into the upper echelon of NFL running backs. On Thursday, he had 27 carries for 92 yards. And on the season, with six games left to play, he has 1,011 yards.

5. In just about every way imaginable, this was a terrible game for Rudolph. It ended in memorably horrific fashion that will overshadow a very bad showing. Four interceptions told the story for the most part, as he was 23-for-44 for 221 yards, averaging just five yards per attempt, with four sacks, a 36.3 rating and one touchdown. That touchdown drive was provided by 63 yards of Browns penalties. It's no secret that the Steelers were winning with defense and that defense was pretty impressive in defeat, allowing just 293 yards of offense to the Browns. Perhaps this is a moment in which the team can rally around Rudolph. In just about every way imaginable, this terrible game for Rudolph showed much improvement is needed if the Steelers can salvage the season.

6. While the wins ceased for Pittsburgh on Thursday, the injury ills maintained. Rudolph, the team's backup, is one of three quarterbacks to have started for the Steelers. Having already missed time with an injured shoulder, running back James Conner was lost in the first half. No. 1 receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster soon followed. Five Steelers in all were lost in the game (due to injury). Less than 24 hours earlier, the Steelers were on a run, full of momentum. Stinging from defeat, the Steelers will now look to move forward, but will most assuredly do it with a limp.

7. Though this game will be forever remembered for the heinous way it ended, it was troubling before that. This was an old-fashioned AFC North slugfest in a new-age NFL and it was at times frightening and will no doubt be daunting moving forward. Six players (five Steelers) were ruled out during the course of the contest. There were too many helmet-to-helmet hits, more often than not delivered by Browns defensive backs. Damarious Randall's savage knock to Diontae Johnson was the end to the game for both, the former due to an ejection and the latter due to a concussion as he walked off with help from trainers, a stream of blood emerging from his ear. Smith-Schuster, a budding star synonymous with a smile, slumped forward on the ground in the first half after a Williams hit that left the wideout resembling a fighter who just got slept in the ninth round. It's likely both teams will be left feeling this game for some time, with injuries and fines.

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