The Steelers’ backups battled, but came up short against the Browns in Cleveland in Week 17.
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered Week 17 with hardly anything to play for after locking up the AFC North championship in Week 16 by coming from behind to beat the Indianapolis Colts. Their opponents, the Cleveland Browns, had everything to play for, if they beat the Steelers they lock up their first playoff spot since 2002.
Pittsburgh lost the coin toss, and the Browns elected to defer their possession to the start of the second half, which meant it was Mason Rudolph, not Ben Roethlisberger who was given the game off, under center to start things off offensively. After a nice first down pass to Chase Claypool, the Steelers’ offense had to settle for a field-flipping opening drive.
The Browns’ first drive of the game was the Nick Chubb show. Chubb broke off a 10 yard run on first down, and it just started the 6 play, 80 yard drive which ended in a 47-yard Chubb run for a touchdown. The point-after gave the Browns an early 7-0 lead with 9:29 left in the quarter.
After a Steelers’ three-and-out, the Browns’ drive which looked promising ended in their first punt of the game. With 2:52 left in the quarter, Rudolph took over at their own 9-yard line and were in the process of putting together their best drive of the game at the end of the first quarter of play.
The Steelers’ drive, which looked promising to start the quarter, ended near midfield and Jordan Berry was called on yet again for duty.
Baker Mayfield’s next drive for the Browns was another good one, but the Steelers’ defense stalled the Browns’ drive in the red-zone, forcing a field goal. The Cody Parkey field goal was good, giving the Browns a 10-0 lead with 9:46 left in the half.
The Steelers’ ensuing drive didn’t just feature Mason Rudolph at quarterback, but also Joshua Dobbs. After Rudolph connected with a beautiful deep pass to Diontae Johnson, it was Dobbs’ running ability which put the Pittsburgh offense for the first time this game. That is where the drive would end, and it was Matthew Wright who made a 29-yard field goal to make the score 10-3 with 4:10 left in the half.
Cleveland was unable to add to their lead on their next drive, giving the ball back to Pittsburgh with just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter. Rudolph worked the two minute offense and got the ball deep into Cleveland territory after a huge completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
A sack to Rudolph set up a 3rd and 13, and a Joshua Dobbs run moved the ball on the cusp of Wright’s field goal range. The 46-yard kick was good, cutting into the lead 10-6 with 1:07 left in the half.
Cleveland’s possession ended without points, and both teams headed into their respective locker rooms with a 10-6 Browns’ lead.
The Browns received the football to start the second half, but were only able to muster one first down before having to punt the ball to the Steelers. Mason Rudolph and the Steelers’ offense continued to be reliant on the big play, and this time the pass was completed to Chase Claypool to get the offense into field goal range.
But the drive stalled and the Steelers called on Matthew Wright for a 46-yard field goal, again, which was good. The kick made the score 10-9 with 8:29 left in the third quarter.
Desperately needing a drive, the Steelers’ defense struggled to get off the field on key third down situations. On a big 3rd down, Baker Mayfield was able to run his way into the red-zone. Just a few plays later had Mayfield hitting Austin Hooper for the Browns’ touchdown. The Parker point-after was good, making the score 17-9 with 3:48 left in the third quarter.
Rudolph faced a huge 3rd and 8 on the Steelers’ next drive, and he made his first big mistake of the game. The pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster was intercepted and returned into the red-zone. It took just two plays for the Browns to face a 1st and goal situation to start the fourth quarter. It took just one play, a run to Jarvis Landry, to put the Browns up 24-9.
Despite the deficit, the Steelers weren’t about to lay down and allow the Browns to have their way with them in the regular season finale. Rudolph put together yet another drive getting near Wright’s field goal range, but the Steelers elected to go for it on 4th and 10. and the deep ball to Chase Claypool was complete for the touchdown.
Go up and get it‼️
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 3, 2021
The Wright extra point was good, making the score 24-16 with 10:07 left in regulation.
The pressure was then on the Steelers’ defense to be able to get the ball back to the offense. After two Mayfield scrambles extended drives, but a Stephon Tuitt sack on third down set up a critical fourth down which fell incomplete.
Rudolph and company took over with 3:37 left in regulation and all three timeouts remaining. The poise of Mason Rudolph was on full display as he connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster for a huge first down, but it was the bomb to Diontae Johnson which put the Steelers inside the 10-yard line.
A thing of beauty!
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 3, 2021
On 3rd and goal, Rudolph hit Smith-Schuster for the Steelers touchdown. With the score 24-22, the Steelers had to go for two and hope to tie the game. The pass intended for Claypool on the conversion fell incomplete, and the 24-22 score stood with 1:23 left in regulation.
Mike Tomlin elected to go for an onside kick, but was unsuccessful. With all three timeouts remaining, the defense needed a stop to get the ball back. After Nick Chubb ran for 7 yards on first down, it looked as if it would be too little, too late for the Steelers. Mayfield would run for the first down, icing the win, and a playoff berth, for Cleveland.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes as the Steelers prepare for the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs.